Fire in a water heater sent smoke drifting and people evacuating at two northwest side restaurants and a store Sunday afternoon.

The fire started in the water heater at the Mencius Chinese restaurant around 4:15 p.m.

Firefighters say that fire was small, but caused a fairly big problem.

They had to evacuate people from Mencius and from a Wing Stop adjacent to that restaurant as smoke poured from that water heater.

Fire crews say a cook from the Chinese restaurant told them he heard a loud pop coming from the water heater just before the fire started.

Firefighters say gas apparently fed the fire, and they had to cut the gas off in the restaurant's mechanical room.

A store on the opposite side of Mencius also evacuated as a precaution.

Damage from the fire is estimated at $15,000.