Jessica Mathews /

A coordinated effort between numerous departments is being credited for helping to prevent further loss from a massive fire that posed a number of challenges at the Karl’s Cabin Restaurant in Salem Township.

The three-alarm fire broke out around 6:15pm Wednesday at the back entrance of the restaurant at 6005 Gotfredson Road in the middle of the dinner rush.

Salem Township Fire Chief Jim Rachwal said calls started pouring in not long after and crews found the back part of the restaurant fully involved. He said the fire had moved into a cage of around 22 compressed gas cylinders that started flaring off to relieve pressure so they had a jet fire roughly 15 to 20 feet tall and the structure on fire when crews first arrived.

Rachwal said efforts were also hampered by high winds and the area has no fire hydrants so every drop of water had to be trucked in. He says they called on their mutual aid partners and departments from Livingston, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne Counties to help tanker in water and provide manpower in battling the blaze.

There was significant damage to the newer banquet side of the facility, which had a second story. Rachwal says the fire climbed the walls and started racing across the ceiling and roofline area. He says crews were able to stop it before the fire entered into the older portion of the building, the log cabin and the kitchen areas, for the most part but there is heavy smoke damage throughout the restaurant.

The fire was brought under control within about an hour and a half, with a lot of time spent trying to gain access to paces between the wooden ceiling and roof. Rachwal said the older part was minimally damaged from fire but heavily damaged from smoke and it will be some time before the restaurant can open back up.

The cause is being attributed to the high winds and an employee smoking station out back. Rachwal said their preliminary investigation determined the cause to be improper disposal or extinguishment of cigarette butts. He says the fire occurred at an employee entrance/smoking area in the back of the building and they believe someone improperly disposed of smoking material and the high winds just fanned the fire before someone noticed it.

Rachwal said thankfully there were no injuries to any patrons, staff or firefighters. He further credited the restaurant for quickly evacuating everyone, having working smoke alarms, and clearing the parking lot for fire trucks and other apparatus when they arrived. Rachwal said there were approximately 200 people in the restaurant, as well as staff, and everyone heeded warnings to get out safely. While they always do preliminary searches, he says the orderly evacuation made it easier to concentrate on fighting the fire and not rescues.

Rachwal noted they never ran out of water and stressed that it was the coordinated effort amongst departments and their great ability to work together that they were able to save what could be saved of the structure.

Assistance was provided by departments from various cities and townships that included Green Oak, Northfield, Lyon, South Lyon, Northville, Plymouth, Canton, Superior, Ann Arbor, Dexter, and Scio Township. That was in addition to the Huron Valley Ambulance, Michigan State Police, the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office, and HART.

A message posted on social media by the restaurant described the fire as “the perfect storm” and said thankfully no-one was hurt. A portion read “We are very proud of our team and loyal customers for staying calm and exiting the building calmly during peak business hours. We would like to thank the community for the outpouring of love and support. We are so grateful for all the kind posts, text messages, phone calls, emails and personal visits. We would like to send a special shout out to all the area agencies & departments for saving the cabin”.

A link to the Facebook page is provided.