By Tim Gardner
A fire struck one of the High Country’s landmark and most popular restaurants on Saturday, March 5.
The Puerto Nuevo Restaurant, located on Highway194 in Banner Elk, near Lowe’s Hardware, only suffered smoke damage inside the restaurant and the rest of the multi-business facility because of the “great teamwork of all fire and other emergency personnel who responded,” Avery County Fire Marshall Paul Buchanan said.
He added that the fire started at approximately 11:30 a.m. and its management was alerted by a customer who saw smoke coming from the structure when pulling into its parking lot. A phone call was quickly made to the Avery County Emergency 911 Center and Banner Elk, Linville and Beech Mountain Fire Department personnel were the first dispatched to the fire, which was engulfed when they are arrived at the scene.
Buchanan said that most of the fire occurred on decorative outside portions of the building and in a decorative rotunda at the entrance to the restaurant. He added that after a thorough investigation by himself, his staff and an investigator from the State of North Carolina Fire Marshal’s office, the fire was ruled to be accidental and its cause and origin started in the upper portion of the building’s rotunda.
According to the fire marshal, all of the restaurant’s staff and others in the building were able to safely exit the facility and no one suffered any injuries or had to be treated for smoke inhalation.
Buchanan also noted that all other Avery County fire departments and as many of their personnel as available responded to the blaze as well as the Foscoe Fire Department from Watauga County. He added that the Spruce Pine and Parkway Fire Departments in Mitchell County and the Roan Mountain, TN fire departments were on standby to respond to any other fire calls in Avery County while the Avery fire departments were working the Puerto Nuevo Restaurant fire.
Personnel from the Avery County Emergency Medical Service (EMS) and the Linville Central Rescue Squad, as well as Banner Elk and Sugar Mountain Police Departments, Avery County Sheriff’s Department, North Carolina Highway Patrol and North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) also responded to the fire.
Both sides of Highway 184 were closed for a few hours in order for fire and emergency personnel to respond to the fire. The closure extended from Highway 105 at the main intersection at Invershield to the Banner Elk gas station in downtown Banner Elk.