Fire ruins Southampton's Churchville Inn

The Churchville Inn in Southampton, a local landmark in Bucks County, was left in ruins by a fire that forced the two managers to flee their apartments above the restaurant early Sunday.

"I woke up gagging on smoke . . . coming through the ceiling," said Andrew Wallace, 27, whose two-bedroom apartment is one floor above the historic restaurant.

Gasping, Wallace said he had run to his bedroom window to gulp fresh air. He woke his girlfriend, Nicole Sidorchuck, 25. She scooped up Wallace's beagle, Sammy, and together they fled to safety down an interior staircase.

In an adjacent apartment, Wallace's brother David, 29, made his way out a window, onto a lower-level roof, and then to the ground, wearing only his boxer shorts.

Andrew Wallace, also in his underwear, never noticed the cold. "I had so much adrenaline going I didn't feel it," he said. Neighbors lent the victims sweatpants and sweatshirts.

The brothers, graduates of the Culinary Institute of America, have run the inn since 2005. Their parents bought it 25 years ago and turned it over to the brothers when they retired. David Wallace runs the kitchen, his brother "the front of the house."

Andrew Wallace said he had bought "the most expensive smoke detector Home Depot had" a few months ago. But the fresh batteries he installed leaked, and he removed it. He had planned to replace the unit but had not gotten around to it.

"Thank God we woke up," he said in a telephone interview while surveying a basement filled with what he described as three feet of water that was used to fight the blaze.

David Wallace was injured when he jumped to the ground. He was reported in fair condition at St. Mary Medical Center in Middletown Township.

Andrew Wallace said his brother appeared to be OK, but "might be held a day or two" for observation.

The restaurant, at 1500 Bustleton Pike, was a meeting place for community groups and a friendly haven in Eagles country for fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Barbecued ribs were its trademark.

"It'll be a loss for the town," said Bucks County Commissioner Charles Martin, a longtime Southampton resident. "It's a shame. Churchville is just a little community. A lot of town folks use that as a meeting place."

The fire, reported at 7:11 a.m., apparently started in a back room in one of the apartments or in the attic, said Southampton Fire Chief Glenn McKenney, who said he did not know the cause.


Contact staff writer Joseph Tanfani at 215-854-2684 or jtanfani@phillynews.com.