A beloved Rockmart institution suffered extensive damage in an early morning fire Saturday that firefighters were still trying to determine the cause of in the hours after the blaze.
The Pizza Farm Restaurant, which has been in business since 1972, had a fire start inside the building sometime after midnight on Friday night that sent several firefighters and agencies scrambling to try and put out the flames.
Despite the efforts of first responders, however, a large portion of the roof collapsed and severe damage was done to the rear of the restaurant, which has been a popular place to dine for people not just in Polk County but around the region.
Rockmart Fire Department personnel were first on the scene at the 734 Knox Mountain Road establishment, followed by the Polk County Fire Department. But Polk County Fire Chief Randy Lacey said Rockmart firefighters had to pull back from inside the structure due to the intense flames by the time they arrived on scene.
The Pizza Farm is owned by Tommy Sanders and managed by several members of his family. It employed around 25 people, according to its Facebook page.
Firefighters actively tried to extinguish the fire for nearly four hours and stayed on the scene until around 9 a.m. checking for hot spots and overhauling the structure.
“These guys they’ve done an outstanding job, Rockmart, Polk County. We had one unit from Bartow County. They’ve done an excellent job fighting the fire,” Lacey said. “We’re limited on manpower. Persistence. That’s the only reason the structure is still actually standing.”
Three firefighters — one from Polk County and two others from Rockmart — were treated on the scene for heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation, according to Lacey. None of them were taken to the hospital.
Lacey said the exact cause of the fire was still unknown as of Saturday morning but that he would be calling in the state fire marshal’s office to investigate.
All of the employees had gone home at the time a fire alarm was triggered and Polk County 911 dispatched units to the nearly 50-year-old restaurant.
“When the first unit got on scene we had light smoke showing from the building, because it’s a tight building. But once they got in there the fire was really intense and as far as they could get was the counter area. And they tried to knock the fire back but they had to back out because it was so hot,” Lacey said.
Within minutes, nearly every Polk County fire engine, rescue and tanker truck was on the scene as well as several Rockmart Fire vehicles, who responded as part of the automatic aid areas in the county. Knox Mountain Road was shut down to traffic for several hours.
“They made an interior attack, and the fire was so intense in the back of the building and it had already spread to the attic,” Lacey said. “They had to back their crews out and we had to go defensive on it, simply because the danger of sending firefighters in it was just too intense.”
Rockmart deployed its ladder truck to get water on top of the structure and try to keep the fire from spreading. But Lacey said the tin roof of the old-style building paired with water supply issues caused problems.
Lacey said they were only able to run a limited hose line from the fire hydrant closest to the restaurant — about 500 feet south on Knox Mountain road — because of the water pressure.
“We’ve got every tanker in the county on the scene right now,” Lacey said as firefighters entered the fourth hour of battling the blaze. “The fire is under control at this time but it took an extended amount of time because of the tin in the building. The tin on the roof, the tin on the ceiling. It took a long period of time to get the fire under control because of that.”
Tanker trucks shuttled back and forth from the scene of the fire to Rockmart High School and Marquette Road at Ga. 113 to bring water to collapsible tanks.
“There were several times we came close to running out of water. Of course we used the ladder truck from Rockmart, and when it ventilated through the roof we got a pretty good knock down on it,” Lacey said. “Once they got it knocked down then we started back in, but the water supply was a problem.”
Condolences and prayers were offered up to the Sanders family and employees online through Facebook, including a post Saturday morning from the Polk County Fire Department and Emergency Management Agency.
“A huge thank you to all the emergency crews that helped out on the overnight fire at the Pizza Farm. These people have all been working tirelessly since late last night and into the morning fighting this fire. Prayers for the owners and all the employees of the Pizza Farm,” the post said.