Fire consumes Milledgeville businesses

A fire with flames that shot more than 40 feet into the air Sunday night damaged at least three businesses before it was extinguished by firefighters, the city's fire chief said.

"This was a very big fire," said Chief Tom Dietrich, who described how it took city and county firefighters more than five hours and 1.5 million gallons of water to snuff a blaze that began in the Pig in a Pit Barbecue and spread to the Discount Mattress and Video Warehouse on North Columbia Street. "It took awhile to get it under control."

Nobody was hurt by the blaze, but Pig in a Pit, a popular haunt for barbecue enthusiasts, was destroyed.

Ben Loper, one of the barbecue restaurant's co-owners, said he was notified about the blaze at about 8:30 p.m.

"(The building) pretty much went up in flames," he said. "There's a lot of flammables in a restaurant. ... It (burned) for a good four or five hours. There was actually a second call to the fire department this morning, because there were some bright embers."

Discount Mattress also suffered from the fire, while Video Warehouse was damaged by the incredible amount of water being pumped onto the flames, fire officials said.

The size of the fire forced local police and firefighters to close North Columbia Street, the city's main north-south corridor, for several hours so firefighters could access more hydrants along the road for additional water, Dietrich said.

The cause of the fire, which at its peak could be seen from several miles away, is unknown at this time, he said.

"We're not speculating on how it started," Dietrich said, noting that investigators from the state's fire marshal's office and a cause-and-origin specialist from the insurance company will be looking into the source of the blaze during the next few days.

Dietrich said the fire was reported shortly after 8 p.m. Sunday night and that a truck was on the scene less than three minutes later.

The restaurant's roof had already caved in when firefighters started fighting the flames, he said. For the next five hours, firefighters struggled with a blaze the chief described as the largest fire the city has seen for several years.

At one point, one of the restaurant's 100-pound propane tanks blew up. "That was a big explosion," Dietrich said. "It shook the ground. ... But fortunately (the tank) didn't launch itself. ... There was enough roof on it to hold it in place."

The fire was difficult to combat, Dietrich said, because the collapsed roof made it difficult for firefighters to get water directly on the flames. Firefighters had to use axes to chop roof debris away to get at the blaze.

The only reason fire was stopped was a firewall in place between Video Warehouse and Discount Mattress slowed the blaze enough for firefighters to work the fire and extinguish it, he said.

There were a "tremendous" number of people working with the fire, he said, referring to the county firefighters who came to aid their city counterparts.

The Pig in a Pit restaurant was scheduled to close its doors in the next few months and move to a new location downtown. Loper said he isn't sure how the fire will affect those plans.

"Everything's kind of up in the air," he said. "We're still definitely going to be downtown eventually, but this is a setback."For more on this story, come back to