Popular Houma restaurant ravaged by flames

Amy Bundy got to Cajun Critters as fast as she could, and she saw the worst.

Bundy received a call shortly after 6:30 this morning telling her the popular Houma restaurant, co-owned by her daughter, Morgan, and Morgan’s fiancé Blake Hebert, was ablaze. Morgan and Hebert were out of town in Orlando when the fire started, so Amy Bundy rushed to the restaurant to get eyes on the scene. She said she arrived around 7 a.m. and the building was “majorly engulfed.”

Firefighters from the Bayou Cane Fire Protection District and Houma Fire Department spent more than an hour quelling the blaze at the restaurant that had been at its Tunnel Blvd. location for six years. Nobody was present at the scene when the fire started and no injuries were sustained.

Tobie Lirette, a manager at Cajun Critters for two-and-a-half years, received a call from Hebert and rushed there, arriving around 7:30. She said she was thinking the best, and didn’t expect to see a blazing fire, instead expecting it to be a little damage in the kitchen.

“I definitely didn’t expect it to be as bad as it was when I got here, for sure,” Lirette said. “It was definitely devastating to see.”

The flames tore through the back of the restaurant, leaving a collapsed roof and charred back of the house. Bayou Cane Fire Protection District Chief Kenneth Himel said the department received the call about the fire at 6:39 a.m. and first responders arrived between three and four minutes. Firefighters were able to make an interior attack on the blaze, but had to withdraw due to the collapsing roof, according to Himel.

After the collapse, firefighters re-entered the blaze and brought it under control between one hour and 75 minutes, according to Himel. He said the situation was a two-alarm fire, meaning the Houma Fire Department provided assistance by sending a few units. Himel estimated a total of 36 to 38 firefighters on the scene. Himel credited the crews, noting they were able to stop the flames from reaching the front of the restaurant.

“They made a good stop. The peak of the roof, that you can see, from there to the front there’s no fire damage,” Himel said. “There’s smoke and heat damage, but they basically contained the fire from the kitchen back. So instead of it racing through the whole thing, we were able to knock it down about a third of the way in.”

As of 10:30 a.m., crews were on the scene making sure the fire was all the way out and checking the structural integrity of the building. Himel said there is still no preliminary cause of the fire, noting the BCFD make seek assistance in the investigation.

While the fire itself may not have eaten up the front of Cajun Critters, it could leave wide-scale sentimental damage in the area. According to Bundy, Hebert placed lots of Cajun memorabilia and personal effects, such as art from his grandmother, in the dining area. Smoke and heat damage, or water damage from firefighters defeating the flames, could take their toll on the items.

Bundy said Cajun Critters had been around for about ten years total, moving to its current location on Tunnel Blvd. from its St. Charles St. location six years ago. Morgan Bundy and Hebert had to re-do everything in the location, building it from the ground up with the promise of eventually having a larger restaurant available.

The fire also means at least a temporary loss of the gathering spot where staff and customers came together to enjoy countless nights. Bundy described the place where people could come as they are and stay as long as they liked. Perez, a server at Cajun Critters since 2013, said a customer was the one who alerted her to the fire this morning. As she, Lirette and Bundy waited to see if they could go inside and check for salvageable goods, Perez reflected on the close bond between the regulars looking for seafood and those who provided it to them.

“There were how many nights we were here until the morning, past closing, with customers?” Perez asked.

Lirette described the Cajun Critters staff as a family and lamented the possible parenthesis to their time spent together.

“That’s the most devastating part is we’re all going to be separated for a little while. Actually, we’re probably not, because we’re all going to come together and work on getting it rebuilt,” Lirette said.

Fans of the restaurant have taken to social media to show their support for the fire, posting on the restaurant’s Facebook page expressing their condolences and hope for the future, such as Brittanie Simoneaux’s words of encouragement.

“Thoughts and prayers go out to Cajun Critters owners and workers… Personally knowing the owners and being there from the beginning of Cajun Critters, one thing I know for sure it will come back bigger and better than ever!!!!” Simoneaux wrote.

Lirette noted the blaze reverberates in an area where many local businesses have gone by the wayside in a struggling economy. She said a rush of customers have flooded her phone with messages looking to get the popular eatery on its feet as soon as possible.

“My phone’s almost dead because it’s been blowing up this morning, making sure we’re okay, checking on us, letting us know if we need anything,” Lirette said. “The community’s already reached out, as far as our customers, if we need anything, to let them know. They’re willing to help us out in any way.”

A Bayou Cane Fire Department truck sits outside of Cajun Critters on Tunnel Blvd. The popular restaurant was ablaze this morning. Nobody was injured in the fire.

Staff Writer