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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Here's what we know, and don't know, in the aftermath of the fire at Fiesta Cancun in Oconomowoc

By Jim Riccioli, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,

2023-03-15
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OCONOMOWOC - The fire that badly damaged a downtown Oconomowoc Mexican eatery displaced a family, left employees in a bind and, of course, deeply affected the business owners themselves.

Separate GoFundMe accounts have been set up by different organizers for each of the groups struggling in the aftermath of the March 10 fire at Fiesta Cancun Restaurant & Cantina, the online charitable fundraising organization announced March 14.

But some details about the incident remain unclear. Here's what we know.

Fiesta Cancun's owners need a lot of financial help

The largest fundraiser, organized by Erin Richards with a $10,000 goal, is for the Contreras family, which owns and operates the downtown business at 159 E. Wisconsin Ave. The funds are meant to assist the family with lost income from the business, which remains closed following the fire which damaged the building's roof and caused substantial damage throughout.

Richards, a teacher who instructs the family's children at St. Jerome Parish School in Oconomowoc, said the fundraiser is needed to assist the family members, whose lives were "instantly changed."

"The restaurant is their livelihood and is a staple to the city," she said on their GoFundMe page. "They have given so much to the community and we need to wrap our arms around them during this heart-wrenching time.

A GoFundMe has been organized to support Fiesta Cancun's employees

Likewise, the restaurant's employees suddenly found themselves out of work, at least temporarily. The $5,000 fundraiser is meant to aid them in their living costs.

"Fiesta Cancun not only has amazing cuisine and service but they wholeheartedly support local businesses, organizations and residents," said Katie Gatlin, the GoFundMe organizer acting on behalf of the employees. "It is now our turn to rally for them! Please consider donating money to help employees who are unable to work due to this catastrophe."

The family that lived above the restaurant lost all their possessions

That leaves the family who lived on the second floor above the restaurant. Gabriella Gomez and her daughter Paisley, 8, and son Bryson, 7, as well as her boyfriend Dylan, safely evacuated during the middle-of-the-night fire, but could not return home and suffered material losses.

"Luckily Gabby woke up to the smell of the thick smoke that engulfed their apartment," said her bestfriend, Leah Grabarz, who organized the GoFundMe effort on their behalf. "She is a hero for getting her family out. ... Sadly, everything in their home is ruined from the smoke. I am creating this fundraiser to get them back on their feet. They are building from the ground up and need everything."

The cause of the fire remains unknown

Meanwhile, the circumstances behind the fire itself remains is still in question, which Oconomowoc fire officials say is not unusual.

"I don’t have anything to add right now," Deputy Fire Chief Brad Ingersoll said in an email Tuesday. "The cause of the fire is under still under investigation, and our designated investigator is working with the City of Oconomowoc Police Department on this incident. Working with police shouldn’t imply possible criminal activity; it’s simply what we do for all fire investigations in the City of Oconomowoc."

Contact Jim Riccioli at (262) 446-6635 orjames.riccioli@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at@jariccioli.

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