ATHENS, McMINN COUNTY (WRCB) - Investigators are no closer to ruling a cause in a fire that destroyed a landmark in Athens.

The Country Patch burned during the lunch hour yesterday.

The entire Athens Fire Department responded, along with four county departments.

Fire officials say they are waiting to talk to the restaurant's owner, who was hospitalized after becoming overwhelmed by the loss on Tuesday.

Investigators are hoping she can help them locate a cause.

While the investigation is just beginning, the community is worried the popular Athens gathering spot may close for good.

"Some of the older folks and some of the folks that work in this general area just kind of depend on it," said local businessman Wade Byram.

The owner's insurance company has hired its own fire investigator who will be in Athens on Friday to determine a cause.

Stay with Eyewitness News for more on this developing story.


ATHENS, McMINN COUNTY (WRCB) – Fire has completely destroyed a landmark restaurant in Athens.

Dispatchers say diners called to report the fire at the Country Patch restaurant around 11:30 Tuesday morning.

When first responders arrived they found the building fully engulfed.

The first priority for fire fighters was to get employees and customers out of the building. Everyone escaped without injuries.

The owner of the restaurant was hospitalized after becoming overwhelmed by the scene of her burning business.

The entire Athens Fire Department was on the scene. Activating county-wide mutual aid, Athens Fire Chief Jim Dyer called on four county departments to assist.

Officials say the restaurant is a total loss.

Fire officials on the scene say it was hard to watch as a popular Athens gathering place went up in flames.

"Everyone eats here, my guys eat here," said Chief Jim Dyer, "its' good country cooking and it's an Athens landmark."

Dyer tells Eyewitness News they aren't sure yet what caused the blaze, but it started in the attic. The fire is under investigation.

WRCB's Callie Starnes submitted this video report via cell phone from the scene.