By Dave Russell
Popular restaurant Sazon Mexican Cuisine, at 2840 Old Cullowhee Road, is a total loss following a fire last Thursday. No injuries were reported.
A call crackled over the emergency services scanner at about 1:15 p.m. about a hood fire at the eatery in a small strip mall on the Tuckaseigee River.
“The fire started in the kitchen area,” said Zeb Holland of the Jackson County Fire Marshal’s Office. “It extended into the hood vent above the grill. It was possibly a grease fire from cooking on the stove.”
Cullowhee was the first fire department on scene, with mutual aid from personnel of the Sylva, Savannah and Balsam departments initially.
At one point, a call over the scanner indicated enough equipment on the scene, but said more personnel were needed.
“As soon as Cullowhee Fire Chief Tim Green arrived on scene, he requested all county departments be paged,” Holland said. “So they also had mutual aid from Cashiers, Canada and Qualla.”
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, Fire Marshal’s Office and Emergency Services responded, as did Harris EMS and the Western Carolina University Police Department.
“We had trucks in the road and shut down Old Cullowhee Road for roughly an hour and a half,” he said. “We had hoses running from a hydrant across Old Cullowhee.”
Emergency personnel called Jackson County Public Schools to let them know to reroute buses.
The fire was contained in about 45 minutes, Holland said.
The fire damage to the hood was so extensive investigators were not able to determine if a hood fire suppression system was in place.
“All of that is still under investigation,” he said. “There was severe damage to that area.”
Right next door, Redskull Tattoos was spared fire damage but suffered smoke damage. It remains closed until further inspection, Holland said.
“We were affected by the smoke, but the fire was contained before it got to us,” Redskull owner Heriberto Garcia said in a Facebook message to the Herald. “I want to say thanks to all the firefighters that assisted and were there.”
The strip mall is about half a mile from the back entrance to Western Carolina University, and is owned by Peggy Wike of Tuckasegee. The .6-acre property has a tax value of $263,390.
Sazon is owned by husband and wife team Alma Noyola and Alex Rodriguez.
“Unfortunately it was a great loss and lot of money,” Noyola said Tuesday. “We don’t own the building so we have to wait and see what the owner of the building wants to do. I don’t even know if it is rebuildable or not, so it’s a wait right now and see what’s going to happen.”
The restaurant featured a deck on the Tuckaseigee River.
“That was a great location,” she said. “That’s what makes it more difficult. We have been there 14 years. To find another location like that one is going to be really hard.”
Noyola is appreciative of the support from the community. A post on Facebook led to an outpouring of love and encouraging words.
The restaurant was her husband’s baby, she said.
“I want to thank the community, my friends and family for all the love and support they have given me over the last few days,” Rodriguez said. “Just to let them know that at this moment, everything is up in the air. Definitely in my heart, it’s 100 percent that I am going to be back.
“We’re going to support our employees and help them as much as we can until we know what is going to happen.”
Rodriguez confirmed the cause was a grease fire.