KJZZ is a service of Rio Salado College, and Maricopa Community Colleges
Privacy Policy | FCC Public File | Contest Rules
Copyright © 2024 KJZZ/Rio Salado College/MCCCD
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Tin Top Bar and Grill in Tonopah destroyed by fire

A small community west of Phoenix experienced a big loss this week. On Tuesday night, flames engulfed one of Tonopah’s only community gathering places. 

According to Eric Kriwer, deputy chief of Arizona Fire and Medical Authority, firefighters received the call that the Tin Top Bar and Grill was on fire at around midnight. Around 50 firefighters worked to put out the flames until about 9 a.m. on Wednesday.

Kriwer says the fire started on the back patio then extended into the restaurant. Because Tin Top’s steel roof fell, firefighters had to work from the outside. Kriwer says only two walls are still standing.

According to James Hoodenpyle, Tonopah’s volunteer community council president, the restaurant meant a lot to the community.

"Everybody knows where the Tin Top is. And if you’re not eating here, you’re meeting here," said Hoodenpyle.

The property the restaurant stood on has been home to a couple of other businesses over the years, but it officially became the Tin Top in 2002.

Jessica O'Riley has been a server and bartender at the Tin Top for four years. She’s eight months pregnant and a mother of three.

"Our slogan really was, 'Come as a customer leave as a friend,' and we meant that," said O'Riley. "When you walk through the doors you are welcomed, and your drinks are memorized and everybody had specific seats. Like it really was the livelihood of Tonopah and it’s very devastating for the families that are impacted. I mean, I know myself included, I only had six more weeks until this baby’s born, and I needed to work all the way up ... I’m a single mom."

Tonopah is a tiny unincorporated community about 50 miles from Phoenix. The 2020 census counted only 23 people living there. The 1.2 square mile census designated place doesn’t have an official mayor or city council, and it’s mostly known for being close to the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant. 

O'Riley says there was a real sense of community at the Tin Top. Many regulars work at the power plant, which is four miles away. Around 2,500 people work at the plant full time, according to APS. 

"We don’t have very much out here, and it was a huge part of the community. I mean, from graduation celebrations to supporting the local school," said O'Riley. "We’re a tight-knit small community and we’re very rural … We have the power plant out here and that is the main source of income for a lot of families and the Tin Top is the next one … Our co-workers were our families. Our kids called each other’s co-workers aunties and uncles and the regular customers knew our kids by names. They’ve watched them grow up since they were babies."

When there were planned outages at Palo Verde twice a year, the Tin Top would open early for breakfast.

"We open up at 6 a.m. for the power plant workers. And my children would wake up with me at 5 a.m., and they would go upstairs and they’d have little sleeping bags and they’d sleep up there, and then they’d get breakfast bought for them and they’d go to school, and they’d be sent off by all our regulars," O'Riley said.

O’Riley found out about the fire at around one in the morning on Wednesday. 

"I live fairly close to the Tin Top so I went and I looked out my window and saw if I could see the flames from my house," said O'Riley. "And I just woke up my kids and put them in the car and rushed over there and then started texting my coworkers."

She says it’s especially tragic for Ron Adams, Tin Top’s owner.

"The night of the fire we were all pretty much there and hugged him and embraced him and we all embraced each other as we were crying watching it, you know, burn to the ground," said O’Riley. "It’s just, reality hasn’t quite set in for everybody. Driving by, I have to live by it and the corner of Wintersberg and Salon is so empty and the gut wrenching feeling when you drive by of just that silence now."

O'Riley says she’s not entirely sure what’s next, and she doesn’t know if the Tin Top will be rebuilt. 

"We are all just very distraught over what is to come next. You don’t think that you’re gonna wake up the next day and be without a job like that, especially supporting children yourself," said O’Riley.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is looking into the cause of the fire. 

More stories from KJZZ

Amber Victoria Singer is a producer for KJZZ's The Show. Singer is a graduate of the Water Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.