Crystal Choate, 39, of Jacksonville, wiped away tears as she stood before a smoldering building in downtown Jacksonville.
The building was not only her home, but her husband's job as part owner of Yum Yums Texas Style, which was housed on the bottom level in the 200 block of South Main Street.
At 12:12 a.m., a man living in an apartment above Yum Yums, where Mrs. Choate and her husband Johnny also live, woke up to an explosion and ran downstairs, Jacksonville Fire Chief Paul White said.
The Choates were at the hospital when the fire sparked, but everything they owned was inside. The couple heard about the fire from a MRI technician, and Mrs. Choate saw the damage for the first time late Sunday afternoon.
"I honestly believed it can't be that bad — it can't be as bad as everyone is saying that it is — but it's worse once you get here and see," she said.
Fire officials said the building was a total loss, but no one was injured.
A couple living in a nearby building in the 100 block of Main Street slept through the explosion noise.
"They didn't get up until the firemen went to the stairs," White said. "(The apartment) was full of smoke, and they were still sleeping upstairs. It was smoky enough that the cat died (from smoke inhalation)."
The fire was about a block from the fire station, and firefighters arrived on scene at 12:13 a.m., White said. There was fire at the back of the building and heavy smoke in the front, he said. Flames were shooting from the roof and out windows.
"I could see the flames from our house, and we live about a mile and a half away," said 37-year-old Foster Carter who watched firefighters battle the blaze. "I couldn't believe it, you don't see that in small town U.S.A. that often — a big blaze like that."
The fire quickly consumed the old structure, making it unsafe for crews to even be inside the building. Five ladder trucks from different departments came to the scene to help, White said.
"It was a big fire, and the ladder trucks saved the day," White said. "It was too dangerous to go inside, so it was basically a defensive fire. (Firefighters) basically put a lot of water on it."
Numerous nearby businesses were saved, but a majority of the buildings had smoke and water damage, White said.
Rusk, Bullard, Earle's Chapel, North Cherokee and Gallatin volunteer departments helped the Jacksonville Fire Department, and Tyler sent a ladder truck to help with the blaze.
"The whole thing was an inferno …" Carter said. "The fire department — they were doing an amazing job. Kudos to those guys."
Fire officials believe the fire sparked in the restaurant's kitchen downstairs, but the exact cause is unknown. Fire investigators are unable to go inside the burned structure, so the department is unable to determine the exact cause, White said.
"That building is going to have to be torn down," White said. "It's got walls standing that need to be collapsed."
Mrs. Choates said although the restaurant was a few months old, the catering side of Yum Yums had been in business for a long time.
Owning and running the restaurant was her husband's dream, Mrs. Choates said, but they will have to start over.
"We are not going to give up if it takes all my blood, sweat and tears, I will get him his restaurant someplace, somehow …" she said. "As cheesy as it sounds, he is the man of my dreams, and I'll make sure that is what we get him back is his."
The fire department was keeping an eye on the burned structure all day Sunday to make sure the hot spots were extinguished, and that no one went inside.
Although the building is gone, the Choate's said they were trying to pick up the pieces.
A local lawyer made sure they had a place to sleep Sunday night.
"He got us a room to stay in for a few days, so we are good till Tuesday," Mrs. Choate said. "After that, we will see what happens. We at least have each other, so we will get through it somehow, someway."