If you own a restaurant, the absolute worse time to have a fire in your meat smoker would be during the dinner rush. Fortunately, when CT's Deli experienced just that Wednesday evening, the quick actions of a couple of passersby kept the situation from becoming far worse. The Good Samaritans acted before the staff even knew there was a problem.
The fire was contained to just the atrium area of the popular downtown eatery, according to Rhinelander Fire Chief Terry Williams. Williams said the alarm came in at 7:48 p.m. and crews were on scene for about 90 minutes. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
"A fire started in the smoker, it was against the buildings," Williams said. "There was some minor damage to the CT's building, but we contained the fire to that area. It did not spread to any buildings, and all of the businesses were able to be open today (Thursday)."
CT's Deli owners Tom Jordens and Rhonda Jicinsky said the outpouring of support from the community and beyond has been overwhelming.
"We had two citizens who were walking behind the deli that know us and knew we're always smoking (meat), but knew the smoker should not have fire coming out of it," Jordens said. "And they immediately called 9-1-1 and the fire department was here before we even knew we had a fire."
Jordens said two members of his staff moved the propane tanks away from the fire and another passerby helped move grills away from the flames.
As soon as news of the fire spread on social media Wednesday evening, offers of help started pouring in, they added.
"We had Bad Bones (Barbecue and Pizza) out of Minocqua offered to cook a lot of our product for us, which is very generous," Jordens said. "And we had countless people on Facebook offer their smokers to us, and I have had that all day long. I actually had one guy drop one off. Unfortunately, I had to send it back because it was just too small. But it was very, very nice of him to offer that."
Because CT's smokes its product a day or so in advance, and stores it inside, there was no shortage of smoked meat when hungry customers started arriving Thursday. In fact, they had more than enough meat since they had cooked more than normal due to the Project North festival starting Thursday evening.
"Luckily enough, we had enough product to get through the day, so we weren't hindered on what we were able to serve, we had a full menu," Jordens said. "If you did not know we had a fire, you would have never known we had a fire."
Jordens said everyone who works at the restaurant has been touched by the outpouring of support.
"It's very enriching the way the community is standing behind us the way they are," Jordens said. "It's very heartfelt and it makes me feel warm inside, it really does. It's wonderful that we mean as much to the community as we do."
The only thing destroyed in the fire was the smoker, but the entire atrium area was covered in smoke and soot, which had to be cleaned up before it could be used by patrons.
Jordens said he has no idea how the fire started.
"The strangest thing is we do the same thing every single day, it's the same practice," he said. "We do the same cooling process. We move the meat the same way every single time. What was different about this time, I have no idea, and it perplexes me."
While the eatery will need to buy a new smoker to replace the one destroyed in the fire, Jordens knows it won't be a fast process.
"I've made some calls, but insurance claims are never fast," Jordens said. "They have to do the inspection and make sure it wasn't our fault or the smoker's fault."
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at jamie@rivernews online.com.
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