Fire damages Panda Garden Buffet in Willmar

A cooking fire damaged the kitchen of the Panda Garden Buffet and caused heavy smoke damage throughout the building on Thursday morning. Employees safely evacuated the building as the Willmar Fire Department and firefighters from neighboring communities extinguished the blaze.

Water and steam erupt as Willmar firefighters extinguish the flames that broke through the roof of the Panda Garden Buffet restaurant in Willmar on the morning of Jan. 27, 2022.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — A kitchen fire on Thursday morning damaged one of Willmar’s most popular restaurants, the Panda Garden Buffet.

No one was injured, but the fire caused damage to the restaurant’s kitchen as well as heavy smoke damage throughout the building, according to Willmar Fire Chief Frank Hanson. The chief reported that there was minor smoke damage to neighboring businesses in the Plaza One Mall on South First Street.

According to information from the Fire Department, Willmar firefighters responded at 10:28 a.m. Thursday to a report of an exhaust hood fire at Panda Garden Buffet. They learned en route that electrical power was out in the restaurant.

The restaurant owners told arriving firefighters that there was a fire and they did not know if it was out. The chief said three employees were cleared from the building. The chief also requested mutual aid from neighboring departments to provide more manpower.

The fire crews remained on the scene until approximately 3:45 p.m. Thursday.


It was determined to be a cooking fire, which was contained to the kitchen by the exhaust hood sprinkler system. At its peak, flames were visible around the rooftop exhaust system.

The Willmar Fire Department was assisted by CentraCare Emergency Medical Services of Willmar; the Blomkest, Kandiyohi, Spicer and New London fire departments; as well as the Kandiyohi County Rescue Squad, Willmar Police Department, Willmar Public Works, Willmar Municipal Utilities and Minnesota State Fire Marshal Division.

Willmar firefighters responded to at the Panda Garden restaurant in Willmar on the morning of Jan. 27, 2022.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
Willmar firefigthers used an aerial ladder to attack the fire breaking through the roof on Panda Gardens restaurant during the morning of Jan. 27, 2022.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
Willmar Firefigthers attack a fire in the roof and roof exhaust system on the Panda Garden restaurant on Thursday morning.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
Firefighters exit the back entrance of Panda Gardens restaurant as they fought the kitche fire on the morning of Jan. 27, 2022.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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