PALM HARBOR — The smell of burning plastic interrupted employees at a Dunkin' Donuts/Baskin-Robbins as they prepared early Wednesday for the morning rush.
Three employees found white smoke coming from an ice machine at the rear of the store. Someone unplugged it, and they went back to work. Fifteen minutes later, an employee smelled smoke, according to Palm Harbor Fire Rescue.
The back of the store went dark. The ice machine burned and flames flickered up to the ceiling, employees told fire officials. Ceiling tiles started to fall as one employee reached for a fire extinguisher. They evacuated.
No one was injured in the 3:30 a.m. fire, but the restaurant at 33240 U.S. 19 N was a total loss. Flames spread through the attic and roof before firefighters arrived.
Extreme heat forced them to fight the fire from outside the building.
It took Palm Harbor Fire Rescue nearly an hour to put out the blaze with the help of additional firefighters from Safety Harbor and East Lake, officials said.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but it appeared to be electrical, said Liz Monforti, a Palm Harbor Fire Rescue spokeswoman.
The fire also destroyed plans for an upcoming fundraiser for firefighters.
On April 27, Palm Harbor firefighters planned to participate for the first time in 31 Cent Scoop Night with Baskin-Robbins. Participating stores host local firefighters and reduce prices of ice cream scoops to 31 cents.
Some of the money raised goes to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, Monforti said.
The money would help families of fallen heroes and provide extra training for firefighters. Money also would have been raised to help send Palm Harbor Fire Rescue's honor guard to the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11.
This was the only Baskin-Robbins in Palm Harbor's district.
"We'll work with the manager to see what we'll do," Monforti said.