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Posted: Friday, September 7th 2012 at 9:39am

Cause of Helen restaurant fire investigated

By Rob Moore
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Flames rise from the top of Safari Steakhouse on North Main Street in Helen. (Photo/Rob Moore)
HELEN – State fire investigators are attempting to determine the cause of the fire that heavily damaged a Helen restaurant and bar Friday morning.

Safari Steakhouse, located at 8717 North Main Street, was owner operated since 1993, the Alpine Helen/White County Convention and Visitors Bureau website states.

Firefighters were called to the fire just before 8 a.m. Friday.

“We have a large commercial structure -- a two-story restaurant -- that is approximately 6,000 square feet, and we had a report of a working fire at approximately 7:45 this morning,” said Helen Fire Chief Bert Smith at the scene. “Upon arrival, we had heavy flames and heavy black smoke from the second story of the building.”

Smith confirmed the structure was used as both a residence and a business.

“The property owners had a small restaurant on this property many years ago, before there was any code enforcement that restricted people from living above a commercial establishment,” Smith said. “During the expansion of the establishment, they were grandfathered in as far as the dual occupancy/dual purpose.”

The residential section of the building was occupied at the time of the fire, with several people still inside when responding personnel arrived Friday morning.

“Everybody’s out safe, including all nine dogs,” Smith said.

Smith discussed the damage sustained by the structure.

“Extensive damage to one end of the building from fire, moderate damage in the middle of the building from smoke and fire, and extensive smoke damage in the residential section,” Smith said. “It’s going to be a costly, costly cleanup and repair.”

In addition to Helen Fire Department, units from White County Fire Department and Lee Arrendale State Prison Fire Department in Alto also responded, along with Helen Police Department and the Georgia Department of Transportation.

“We did have a lot of help,” Smith said. “I have a great deal of thanks to the White County Fire Department, to the Lee Arrendale Correctional Institute – LACI firefighters as we call them. Everybody pitched in.”

“We actually did a textbook attack on this fire,” Smith said. “We stopped it where we found it. We prevented it from going further into the structure. I’m really proud of the turnout.”

Two ambulances also were on scene at the fire, which shut down North Main Street between downtown and Betty’s Country Store for more than three hours.

“EMS always gets dispatched to structure fires for the purpose of treating injured firefighters and also setting up rehab to check vital signs on firefighters that have been in to make sure they don’t overexert themselves because the adrenaline’s pumping so you don’t realize just how bad your heart’s racing or that your respiratory rate is up,” Smith said. “They’re here to prevent us from foolishly overdoing ourselves. The second [EMS] truck came just because of the sheer number of people that we had here.”

State fire investigators remained on scene in Helen about 4 p.m. Friday.
Associated Categories: Homepage, Local/State News

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