UPDATE: Fire at classic Unicoi eatery deemed accidental

(PHOTO: S. Zarek / WCYB)

A fire blazing in the night sky. A local dining landmark that served many meals for 48 years, up in flames.

"I heard a siren and then I noticed the blue lights flashing through the window, and I got up and looked across and there was a fire truck there, and I thought there was a car on fire," said neighboring homeowner George Ritchie.

But it was not a car that was on fire, it was Clarence's Drive-In restaurant, a staple of the Unicoi community since 1969 until it burned to the ground. Investigators say the cause of the fire that started late Tuesday has been deemed accidental.

"There was a company here going to seal the parking lot, and they were taking a propane burner and going around the edges of the parking lot, also around the edges of the building, burning some of the old grass that had come up through the asphalt," said Sheriff Mike Hensley.

After the asphalt sealing company left, embers from the debris close to the door caught the building on fire, he noted.

"Just a sad situation here. This is a landmark here in Unicoi County, not only here but the Tri-Cities area. A lot of folks stopped here and had dinner and breakfast," Hensley said.

"It's going to be a lost place...there was a lot of business there. They had one of the best breakfasts there was anywhere. They served biscuits and gravy all day long," Richie added.

The next steps in clean up and potentially rebuilding is now up to the owners and the insurance company.

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