‘Like a flamethrower’: Buffet fire shuts down Austin’s Saloon in Libertyville during Easter brunch

  Austin's Saloon owner Mark Khayat speaks outside the restaurant following Sunday's fire, which broke out during an Easter buffet. Steve Zalusky/

Management and staff evacuated hundreds of Easter brunch customers at Austin’s Saloon in Libertyville after a fire broke out and flames shot from a buffet table Sunday.

Four people suffered nonserious injuries, with one taken to a hospital.

Restaurant managers blamed a faulty propane tank. Firefighters said the cause is still under investigation.

Restaurant manager Drew Ryan said 500 to 600 guests were in the restaurant at 1:15 p.m.on a day when 1,200 people were expected. They were enjoying a holiday buffet when, Ryan said, he heard pops and saw flames shooting into the air.

“It was either a faulty tank or a faulty hose,” Ryan said. “I grabbed the fire extinguisher and got after it.”

Staff evacuated the customers, who left through eight doors, while management attacked the fire. Ryan said it took three extinguishers to douse the flames. Sprinklers were also activated, soaking members of the restaurant team.

Mark Khayat, owner of the restaurant that has served Libertyville for more than three decades, said the fire broke out in the lounge area.

“Staff that I talked to said it was like a flamethrower,” he said. “Once those flames erupted — and they were very big — our staff went to work and got everybody out. Shortly after, the fire department arrived. My staff are like rock stars to me.”

Libertyville fire Assistant Chief Michael Hall said the fire was out by the time firefighters arrived.

“We had moderate smoke coming from the front of the building,” he said.

He said four people complained of smoke inhalation. Round Lake firefighters took one patient to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville. None of the injuries were described as serious.

It is unknown when the restaurant will reopen, though Ryan predicted it would reopen next week.

Ryan said he would not use propane at buffets going forward.

Given that hundreds of guests were in the restaurant, the outcome could have been tragic, Khayat said.

“We’re just really happy nobody got hurt today,” he said. “We can put this back together, and we’re well on our way. We’ll be open soon.”

“I’m super blessed today,” Khayat said. “Easter Sunday, right.”

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