Madison fire investigators have determined that the fire that destroyed the Capitol Hills apartment building on June 30 began in a wait station in Underground Kitchen, a ground-level restaurant, according to Madison Fire Department's public information officer Lori Wirth. The fire is believed to have been accidental.
Wirth says investigators believe the fire traveled up a ventilation shaft that runs through the center of the building to the roof, where it burned beneath the rubber covering.
Twenty-seven residents were displaced by the two-alarm fire.
News of the fire department's announcement is still fresh to Jonny Hunter when he picks up the phone. "Someone just called me," the Underground Food Collective founding and principal member reports from the midst of a catering event. Skimming the press release, he expresses relief that the investigation concludes the June 30 blaze was accidental -- but also sadness that "there's still 27 people who are out of their homes," that "we don't have a restaurant and 35 people are out of their jobs."
Hunter sounds like someone whose mind is still processing the text message from an employee who alerted him to the fire, still in limbo while the collective waits for the insurance companies to complete their calculations.
But he is hopeful. "I think our hope would be to be in that building if that's possible," he says, "if they decide to keep it."
If they don't, he adds, the collective's alternative options are a matter of conjecture at this point.
For now, Hunter notes, the collective has swiveled its focus to catering and meat processing. "A lot of restaurants around town have offered us their spaces on the nights they're closed," he adds, posing the possibility that the collective's restaurant may persist as a moveable feast of pop-up restaurants. "It would be cool," he says, "if people who liked what we did would come out to the pop-up restaurants." He suggests visiting the collective's website at for updates.
Meanwhile, adds Hunter, "I dream of being back in that space" on the first floor at the Capitol Hill Apartments building. "I loved it," he explains. "We were doing really well."