SmokeHouse Restaurant Burns to the Ground

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

Around 3:30 p.m. on April 27, Sewanee Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Doug Cameron received notice from the Monteagle Volunteer Fire Department about a fire at Jim Oliver’s SmokeHouse in Monteagle. Cameron arrived at the scene nearly coincidentally with the first MVFD engine. “In the back kitchen corner by the grease pit the fire was rolling,” Cameron said, “a lot of flames and heavy black smoke.”

Pelham Valley Volunteer Fire Department joined Sewanee and Monteagle. Pelham assumed “incident command,” according to Cameron. Eventually 14 departments turned out to fight the blaze. A tower of flame shot up from melted natural gas lines feeding kitchen appliances. Middle Tennessee Natural Gas shut off the flow, but the fire quickly burned out of control. “David Green [MVFD consultant] told me we were going defensive to try to save the SmokeHouse motel,” Cameron said.

WRCBtv reported the SmokeHouse manager speculated electrical issues caused the fire, and employees tried unsuccessfully to put it out with fire extinguishers.

“There were multiple roofs on that building, and the flames spread to the roofs,” Cameron said. “The fire got in the attic of the motel.”

Lack of water stymied firefighting efforts, with the nearest hydrant across the street and the next nearest hydrant at the Shell Station nearly half a mile away. Tanker trucks delivered water to the firefighters from the Shell Station and another remote location.

“I was begging for water,” Cameron said. “All we had was a two-and-a-half-inch line trying to fight the fire in two different places.”

Grundy County EMS treated firefighters for dehydration and exhaustion. “They gave them IVs and sent them back in,” Cameron said. Cameron praised Monteagle Mayor Marilyn Campbell Rodman. Rodman was on the scene, as she had been at the April 23 chemical spill in Monteagle, supplying firefighters with food and beverages.

Jim Oliver’s SmokeHouse opened its doors in the 1960s. The restaurant and gift shop entertained visitors with old photos, farm tools, and like memorabilia collected by the family. Jim Oliver’s children, Betsy and James David, currently operate the business.

“Please pray for our SmokeHouse family. We are totally devastated and heartbroken,” the owners wrote in a Facebook post late Tuesday night. “Thanks for everyone who tried to help us today. Please pray for the Oliver family. And, our many employees.”

The restaurant and gift shop are “totally on the ground,” Cameron said. Excavators cut trenches to contain the fire, and firefighters extinguished the fire in the motel attic. But Cameron cautioned, “that kind of fire can burn for days. The roofing tin holds the heat in.”

“My biggest job is to bring everybody home,” Cameron stressed.

There were no injuries and no deaths, Rodman said. “Buildings can be replaced, people can’t,” she observed. “Pray for the Olivers. I hope they can rebuild.”

Rodman counted more than 23 agencies helping with the response effort with volunteers coming from as far away as Alabama. “In a bad situation, it was everybody pulling together again. Thank you everyone who came and helped the town.”