ALMONT TWP. — The Country Smoke House, one of the area’s most successful and popular businesses, sustained extensive damage in an early morning fire on Friday, Oct. 4.
Almont Township Fire Capt./Incident Commander Jeff Ludwig said firefighters from six local departments responded at around 12:03 a.m. to the fire alarm at 3294 Van Dyke.
Ludwig said the specific cause of the fire remains unknown pending an investigation by Michigan State fire marshals.
“There is nothing to suggest the fire is suspicious,” he said, “but the fire will need to be investigated before we can provide more details.”
Fire Chief Don Smith said it appears the fire began in the rear of the building’s upper level, where much of the roof had been impacted.
By around 7:30 a.m. on Friday, many of the business’s 50-plus employees reporting for another day’s work were clustered together, pondering their futures in the fire’s aftermath.
Some of them described building owners, Steve and Sue Francis, as “being family” and pledged their continued support during what is typically the busiest of seasons for the local deer processing business.
“This place and the people who work here are my family,” said one employee. “I’m ready right now to start the rebuilding.”
A somber Steve Francis, who recently experience a heart attack and was mourning the recent loss of his father, expressed appreciation for the support, while vowing to rebuild and come back stronger than ever.
The Country Smoke House has been in the process of an ongoing expansion process to accommodate the creation of a USDA licensed meat packing facility.
The addition was expected to facilitate the hiring of as many as 12-25 new employees. Smith said it appears that the area of the ongoing expansion was unaffected by Friday’s fire.
The Country Smoke House began operations in 1988, and had been the recipient of numerous awards for the quality of its meat products.
The business has also become a popular destination for families traveling north- and southbound on M-53 on their way to and from Michigan’s Thumb region.
In addition to the Almont Township Fire Department, other departments responding to the scene included: Imlay City, Goodland, Attica, Dryden and Mussey Township.
Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.