Demolition underway on burned Concord apartment complex

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Evacuees who live next to a huge construction fire in Concord were still out of their homes Thursday night. 

Collapse of the charred apartment building remains a risk, and air quality emerged as another hazard as the ruined complex is being demolished. 

The three-alarm fire broke out Tuesday morning at about 1 a.m., and has caused disruption to the downtown area ever since. 

"Just come and get a margarita, and forget about the fire!" urged restaurant owner Reyes Ramos, whose business re-opened Thursday.

Agave Mexican Restaurant sits on the edge of the block-long fire, and it's awnings are riddled with burn holes from falling embers,   

Considering the size and heat of the blaze, Agave was lucky it didn't burn, but now business is off 80 percent, with some streets closed and smoke lingering .

"It's been pretty bad for us, and I'm just hoping they will open the street soon, because the weekend is coming up," said Ramos.

Demolition of the five story, 200 unit, structure began Thursday morning. 

Apartments that were slated for September rental, are now rubble. 

"We know right now the air quality is not healthy," said Steve Hill, information officer for the Contra Costa Fire Protection District.

Debris dust and smoke particulates are unsafe, contributing to the continued evacuation of a few hundred people in an adjacent apartment building. 

The charred complex also remains unstable, and parts of it continue to flare up. 

The hazards are slowing the probe into cause and origin as well. 

"The investigators have just gotten into the structure today," said Robert Marshall, Fire Marshal for Contra Costa County. "and so the investigation with the techniques they use has just  started." 

Surveillance cameras from the construction site have been retrieved, 

And a team of federal ATF experts is on scene, 

They will be looking at whether this fire is linked to a string of other arsons at large apartment construction sites in the East Bay. 

Among those watching the demolition closely, are the owners of a longtime bakery, located only 30 feet from the fire.

"The worst part for us is we could not even call our customers," said Ernst Freithe, owner of Alpine Pastry and Cake. 

Freithe and wife Gabriella spent a harrowing night, uncertain their business would survive. 

"There was a wall of flames at times, and if the wind would have shifted the other direction, we would have been up in smoke," said Ernst.

Their bakery escaped with water damage, and the loss of all perishable foodstuffs during the power outage. 

Thursday, they were escorted in to retrieve customer orders they have no way of fulfilling, including wedding cakes.   

"At least we can call them and personally apologize for not being able to make the cakes," said Gabriella.  

She admits the experience has been emotional. 

"One of our employees said, 'it's the little bakery that could and would,' so that's going to be our new motto," smiled Gabriella. 

Fire and ATF officials plan another media briefing at 11 a.m. Friday, with updated information on when evacuees can return home.