Firefighters responded to the blaze after someone apparently saw flames from the back side of Chang Thai Restaurant, 135 W. Depot St., and called 911 about 9:30 a.m.
The fire spread quickly and prevented firefighters from entering the building. When the fire got into the roof, that caused the roof to collapse.
“It pancaked ... and with three roofs on that building we couldn’t get any water to the seat of the fire,” Hopson said.
The fire spread heavy smoke throughout downtown, prompting at least one business to evacuate for a short time. Hopson said the General Morgan Inn evacuated staff and guests because of the smoke. The downtown hotel was never threatened by the fire.
Firefighters closed Depot Street and part of Summer Street to traffic, and Hopson said there were quite a few spectators who gathered to watch the blaze.
He said the department called off-duty and auxiliary firefighters in to man stations and work the fire, and several other fire departments responded to the scene and provided assistance.
“We probably had 30 or 35 firefighters counting all the mutual aid departments that came in to help us,” he said.
Throughout the day, the Greeneville/Greene County EMS and the local chapter of the American Red Cross were on scene to provide assistance to firefighters and “we rehabbed them every 20 minutes,” Hopson said.
He also said the First Baptist Church nearby cooked supper for everyone on scene.
Hopson said the extra manpower was a big help considering the difficult nature of the fire and the length of time it took to put it out.
Firefighters had to keep putting water on the fire well into the afternoon and were finally able to clear the scene around 7 p.m. — about 10 hours after the first truck pulled up.
But not everyone went back to the station. Hopson said some of the more rested firefighters were going to remain on scene overnight to ensure the fire doesn’t flare up again.
“We still have two ladder trucks down there, and they will be there all night. We’ve got it out, but there’s still some hot spots in there,” he said.
Thursday, the fire department will be on scene again to re-evaluate the scene.
“The buildings are not stable enough to go inside, so we’re going to have to do something else to clean them out,” Hopson said.