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.

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.

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