BY SARAH GREGORY
Firefighters from the Tusculum, Newmansville, and Limestone Volunteer Fire Departments spent several hours Friday afternoon battling a structure fire at The Whistle Stop -- a popular restaurant located in Afton.
The building, which formerly housed The Mill Wheel restaurant for a number of years, had served at a still-earlier period as Lintz's Store.
Greene County 9-1-1 dispatched units from the three departments to the scene, at 435 Afton Road, after the initial call at 1:34 p.m. Friday.
The Tusculum department received the primary dispatch from 9-1-1, with the Newmansville and Limestone departments dispatched as back-up for Tusculum.
No injuries were reported, but damage appeared to be very extensive. Tusculum Fire Chief Stephen Harris said about 7 p.m. that he considered the building to be a total loss.
The owner, George Lamons, was at the scene on Friday afternoon.
Lamons told The Greeneville Sun there that, as of that time (mid-afternoon), the cause of the fire and the extent of damage were not known.
"It's just a sad ending for that old building," he said.
Cheryl Roark, who operated The Whistle Stop with her husband Jeff, was also at the scene on Friday afternoon.
Before renting the building and establishing The Whistle Stop, Cheryl Roark was a longtime server at The Mill Wheel.
Chief Harris said in an interview about 7 p.m. that the fire appeared to have begun at the rear of the structure.
He said it seemed to have spread rapidly after getting into a storage room at the back and moving from there to the attic.
Once in the attic, he said, the fire got into the rafters and burned toward the front of the building.
"We chased it around quite a bit" after it got into the rafters, he said.
He added that the fire departments have not identified a probable cause.
The roof eventually collapsed, and sections of the floor began to sag. At that point, Chief Harris said, he considered it too dangerous to send firefighters into the building.
The firefighters therefore switched to battling the fire from exterior ladders, he said.
The Greene County Sheriff's Department handled traffic control at the scene.
As of mid-afternoon Friday, Sheriff's Department Detective Capt. Jeff Morgan said that he had not been asked to investigate the fire.
Neighbors watching events unfold Friday afternoon from the parking lot of the Afton Post Office, just across the street from the restaurant, shared memories of visiting the store in their youth in Afton, and also praised the quality of food served at The Whistle Stop.
In addition to the three volunteer fire departments and the Greene County Sheriff's Department, the Greeneville Emergency & Rescue Squad responded to the scene with its Cascade unit to refill the compressed air tanks of firefighters' self-contained breathing apparatus.
Also responding, on a stand-by basis, was Greene County-Greeneville Emergency Medical Services.