According the Monett Fire Chief Tom Jones, firemen got to the scene shortly after 1:30 p.m. on Friday. The smell of smoke prompted the summons, but initially the source was not apparent. Jones said firemen pulled ceiling tiles, saw no flames, went outside for a look, then came back in to look again. At that point the flames over the ceiling of the kitchen could be seen in the attic.
The source of the fire may have come from the electrical or heating systems, Jones said. A crew had been working on a roof heating unit earlier in the day. Recognizing firemen faced a major blaze in 10-degree temperatures, Jones immediately called for backup from the Monett Rural Fire Association.
The fire spread very fast and within a few minutes began filling the building with heavy smoke. Customers and employees were rushed out of the facility as all available firemen and trucks were called to the scene. Within a very short time the fire broke through the roof. At that point Jones called for additional reinforcements.
Pierce City city and rural firefighters as well as the Purdy Fire District sent in crews and trucks to help. Seeing the city crew would be fully engaged for some time, Jones asked the Aurora city and rural firemen to serve as backup in case any additional emergencies developed.
"We had the ladder truck ready in case the fire went through the roof," Jones said. "We set up the trucks around the building, laid the hoses into the hydrants and went at it from every direction. We sprayed the roof from the ladder truck and went at it with firemen at each entrance to surround and drown."
The fire spread with great speed, challenging the firefighters to keep up. Heavy smoke billowed from the building, forcing the evacuation of the Braum's store immediately to the east.
Frigid temperatures offered additional challenges. Jones said as soon as firemen began spraying down the building, the equipment started freezing.
Firemen poured 4,000 gallons a minute on the blaze. Jones alerted the Monett Water Department about the situation and the supply kept up throughout the battle, which lasted for two hours.
Once the roof started to collapse, Jones said it became apparent the building could not be saved despite their efforts. Heat from the fire compromised the structural integrity of the foundation, he added.
By 4:30 p.m. firemen had moved into mop-up mode. A hot spot near the air conditioning system unreachable from the ground prompted another barrage from above with the cannon on the ladder truck. An hour later a call went out for a dozer from Vaughn's Construction to take down the east wall and move two large heating units so firemen could get to hot spots underneath.
Around 20 city firemen were on the scene plus the men from other departments. Jones said he needed the numbers to rotate men off the line as they became too cold to work. Men would step back to vehicles to warm up then jump back on the line.
The only mishap reported came when one of the firemen fell on the ice. Jones said X-rays showed the fireman's arm was not broken. The Red Cross sent a van down to provide refreshments for the firemen. Employees from Taco Bell, west of McDonald's, brought over a tank of hot tea as well.
Bunker gear was caked with ice. Around 6 p.m. as crews picked up their gear, an acetylene torch was brought to melt the ice that had formed around the hydrants, making it impossible to disconnect the hoses.
McDonald's in Monett originally opened on Dec. 19, 1983. The popular restaurant underwent a major expansion in the 1990s with the addition of the enclosed playroom at the front.
For original owner Patti Holt, who now works at Jack Henry and Associates, news of the restaurant's destruction came hard. She received over 100 e-mails throughout the afternoon from former employees recalling their experience.
"I went home and cried," Holt said. "I spent 30 years of my life in that restaurant. It's an icon. Build a McDonald's in a small town and people will come."
Holt recalled she and her husband, Don, opened the restaurant in a blizzard so bad that they had to walk to work. Customers were still waiting. Recently, construction had started on adding another drive-through lane at the restaurant. It appeared the fire was unrelated to the new project.
Current restaurant owner Phil Close, who also owns McDonald's in Neosho and Bella Vista, Ark., has expressed his intention to rebuild. The restaurant currently employs around 50 people. McDonald's investigators were on the scene today.
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