A popular Mexican restaurant in Lillian went up in flames early Friday morning, March 15, 2019. Firefighters from across Baldwin County battled the blaze for nearly four hours, but weren’t able to save it. The restaurant was formerly known as Ponderosa Steak House and then most recently, under new management, Pirate’s Cantina Mexican Grill.
Flames filled the night sky as the fire at Pirate’s Cantina burned out of control. Video and pictures posted on social media by the Lillian and Elberta Volunteer Fire Departments showed just how intense the fire became. By daylight, there was little left. Timothy Lentz could only sit and look on as firefighters continued to put out hot spots left from the fire that destroyed much of his life’s work. Only a shell remained of the hand-built log cabin he spent nearly two decades building.
“It’s like part of me,” Lentz said. “I’m an old guy now. I was a pretty young guy. It took me eighteen years to build it. They told me I had the longest-running permit in the county and I guess I’m too old to even think about a rebuild.”
It was more than just a building that went up in smoke. It was also a landmark in the small town. Inside were countless artifacts and antiques collected over a lifetime. Throughout the morning, friends and patrons of the restaurant stopped by in disbelief.
“He had, I bet you a million dollars’ worth of antiques inside and he hadn’t got enough insurance to cover everything and so it’s just devastating,” said long-time Lillian resident, Harold McGehee.
“We just moved to Lillian a few years ago, but I’ve seen it. I’ve been in it a lot. I had my child’s birthday party there so I think it’s devastating to the community because it’s done very well,” added Crystal Bennett who’d just had dinner there the night before.
This was the first time the newly-formed Baldwin County Fire Chief’s Tanker Task Force had been called to action. Pumper trucks responded from as far away ad Daphne to help put out the fire. Water was also siphoned from Perdido Bay at one point. Lillian Fire Chief, Jim Ellis said there were many challenges.
“Managing fifty people on scene, I’d say about sixteen tankers siphoning water from the bay and headed this way,” Ellis said.
Lentz holds out little hope he’ll be able to salvage anything after the fire. While indications are it started in the kitchen and spread, the cause is still under investigation.