BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — UPDATE: The Kern County Fire Department says a fire that consumed multiple small businesses over the weekend in Oildale was caused by homeless individuals.
Business owners are left picking up the pieces after a grass fire that started over the weekend near Olive Drive and Highway 99 that spread to a nearby business plaza.
Fire crews arrived when the 20,000-square-foot building was already fully engulfed in flames. The owners of Banacek's say they have worked hard to stay open, but now there is little left of the business.
Lisa Stafford, a bartender at Banacek's described what happened that day.
"Then the power went out, and I am thinking okay ‘what the heck.’ Then I started hearing all these explosions, and all these stuff going off, and I started freaking out and I am walking out the door and when I am walking out a guy is at the door and tells me I need to evacuate, the bar is on fire."
WATCH ALSO: Fire damages several businesses in Oildale
Stafford was just getting ready to open up on Saturday when the fire started. She’s been a bartender at Banacek's for a decade and watched as the place that had become home turned to ash. Now she’s figuring out her next move.
"Looking for another job at my age is kinda tough. We’re just up in the air and praying that we find somewhere else to call home. I would hate to go to another place. I feel sick to my stomach thinking about it."
Stafford is one of four bartenders who are now concerned for their financial well-being. And it’s that financial stability that concerns Melissa Britt, the owner of the bar who’s given her life to the business for 17 years.
"These are not just employees, these are our family. They’ve worked their whole lives. That doesn’t mean they could save anything. They have worked to live."
Britt says throughout the years the employees and customers have become a family, her kids growing up with some of their kids. Hosting funerals, weddings, and baby showers. She adds the bar was also part of the family and when the fire happened, Stafford called her before anyone else.
"I stood across the street and cried with everyone else because there was a bunch of us here."
Britt says she thought they had made it when they came back stronger after COVID, but nothing prepared them for this. Now she doesn’t really know what happens next, but in the meantime, they will celebrate their bartender's birthday and hold each other through the next steps.
Britt has owned Banacek's for 17 years. She says she and employees are all hurting from the loss. And it's not just her crew. People came out throughout the day and shared their memories. One gentleman says he named the bar back in the ’70s.
"At that time Banacek was on TV and I said 'hey let's name it Banacek's' and so they did.
Others came by saying they had been coming to the businesses for years.
"Driving by and saw that it was all burned down and I had Dick's do some stuff on my car and they’re burnt," said sot Eric Williams.
And just a couple of feet away other businesses were able to survive but did have some damage.
"When the transformer blew up it took out a smog machine and lights," said business owner John Loucks.
Loucks has owned his business since 1998 and for the past couple of months, they have had constant fires but they are always put out.
This time was different, now Melissa and her crew are holding tight to come out stronger.
"I come every morning and have my coffee in the parking lot because that is what I did, every morning," said Britt.
Britt adds she hopes everyone understands this is much more than a bar.
The fire department says they don’t have any updates on what started the fire or the estimated damage, but because the call initially came in as a grass fire, the Kern County Fire Department says this is a reminder to clear any potential hazards away from your home like clearing grassy fields nearby.