A popular Rotorua eatery has been forced to close just before its busiest season after a fire ripped through its kitchen, caving in part of the ceiling.

The fire started in the kitchen of Che Chorizo and spread into the building's ceiling about 5pm on Saturday.

The fire was contained quickly, but not before it had caused part of the ceiling to crumble.

The damage was made worse when it rained later that night, leaking into the building.

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The restaurant will be closed for at least a month, preventing it from getting its share of the summer rush in Rotorua.

Che Chorizo owner Cristian Torres surveys the damage to the kitchen after a fire on Saturday. Photo/Ben Fraser
Che Chorizo owner Cristian Torres surveys the damage to the kitchen after a fire on Saturday. Photo/Ben Fraser

But owner Cristian Torres said above all else, he was just glad nobody was hurt.

He said the fire started while he and his staff were preparing for a private function for more than 50 people.

"It all happened so fast. There was a kitchen hand, two wait staff and myself doing the preparation when it started. There were no customers inside. I'm very happy with that.

"I was the one to notice the fire first, I think it went up the range hood, it was very quick, within five minutes everything was gone."

Che Chorizo owner Cristian Torres surveys the damage to the kitchen after a fire on Saturday. Photo/Ben Fraser
Che Chorizo owner Cristian Torres surveys the damage to the kitchen after a fire on Saturday. Photo/Ben Fraser

"I am glad nobody was hurt, that's the best, most important thing."

He said the business was insured and would be assessed today
but it would be difficult to find somebody to repair the damage so close to Christmas.

Today, the hole in the ceiling was covered to prevent more damage if it rained again.

Torres said he was sad about the damage to his business but more so at having turning away the private function at such short notice on Saturday night.

He said Che Chorizo had been doing quite well, with a lot of bookings in the past two weeks and leading up to Christmas.

A Northern Fire Communication Centre spokesman said a number of people had called about the fire and two fire trucks attended.

Rotorua Fire Brigade senior station officer Jim Prescott said initial findings suggested the fire was started when a spark from a fire box, used for smoking and cooking meat, rose into the extractor fan above it and ignited residue in the flue.

He said the metal in the flue became red hot and set fire to timbers in the ceiling.

Prescott said the owner tried to use a carbon dioxide extinguisher but could not control the blaze.

He said it took about 12 minutes for firefighters to get the fire under control, and they removed roofing iron and extinguished roofing timber.

"What we can say is that smoke detectors pick up early stages of fires and should be used in commercial kitchens, and if you initially attempt to put out fire but it doesn't work 111 should be dialled straight away."