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Up in flames — fire claims restaurants in downtown Fairfax

Fire claims restaurants in downtown Fairfax; 9 fire departments respond

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Buildings that housed the former Jimmy's Pizza and Smoky Hollow restaurant were destroyed by an early Sunday morning fire in downtown Fairfax.

FAIRFAX — Nine fire departments and a cooperative were called to duty early Sunday morning in response to a fire that destroyed downtown buildings that housed Jimmy’s Pizza and Smoky Hollow restaurants on South Park Street.

Fairfax police chief and Fire Department member Scott Froehlich said the buildings were fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived at about 4:30 a.m. Sunday. He estimated the fire began at about 4 a.m..

“Firefighters got here in about five minutes,” Froehlich said.

Departments from Sleepy Eye, New Ulm, Hector, Franklin, Gibbon, Morton, Morgan and Winthrop responded and were at battling the blaze.

Froehlich said Central Region Cooperative assisted firefighting efforts, hauling water to the fire. Ladder trucks from New Ulm and Sleepy Eye were used to pour water on the tops of the buildings for a couple hours as the sun rose.

Photo by Fritz Busch New Ulm and Sleepy Eye Fire Departments use ladder trucks to direct water on a downtown Fairfax fire Sunday morning. Nine fire departments responded to a fire that destroyed buildings that housed the former Jimmy's Pizza and Smoky Hollow restaurant on South Park Street.

Smoky Hollow owners Nancy and Mark Gohnert watched firefighters monitor the burned buildings Sunday morning.

Nancy Gohnert said the building that housed Smoky Hollow dates back to 1874. She and her husband have owned the business for nearly five years.

“People gave me lots of memorabilia of the town to hang up inside,” said Nancy. “People in their 80s came in and said they’ve been coming there since they were small. They told me it was so smoky inside, they couldn’t see through the window. I guess that’s how the name started.”

She just bought extra equipment for an evening salad bar that was planned. Business hours for Smoky Hollow were 6 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

“I don’t know what I’ll do with myself Monday morning. I love my customers. I’ll miss seeing them every day. Some of them come in and sit for three hours,” Gohnert added. “This is heartbreaking. All four of my kids worked here when they were younger days. Former owner Ray Berg was going to come back in and play his harmonica. My nieces and nephews painted pictures for me. Maybe bigger and better things will come.”

Chief Froehlich said the Minnesota State Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the fire.

(Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.)

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