'I keep seeing memories go by'
The beloved Clark’s Outpost barbecue restaurant in Tioga is a total loss after a fire fully engulfed the building in the cold, early morning hours Monday.
Only portions of the 120-year-old building still stood after firefighters finally extinguished the last embers after five hours of battling the blaze.
Clark’s co-owner James Hilliard said he will rebuild but that the local icon can never be the same.
“It’s not going to be the memories and everything else,” Hilliard said. “It can’t be what it was; we can’t get back what it was, and that’s my biggest problem, dealing with the memories.
“How do you recapture the heritage of a building built back at the turn of the last century? It’s going to be hard to recapture all of that, but we’re going to try.”
Clark’s is famous throughout North Texas for its slow-cooked barbeque, smoked for a full 72 hours. The Dallas Morning News posted news of the fire on Twitter Monday and in its Tuesday edition. The fire also was reported on Dallas radio stations.
Hilliard and his partner, Steve Gressett, took over the restaurant after the original owner, Warren Clark, died in 1996. Clark opened the restaurant in 1974. Gressett has worked there since 1982, and Clark’s has been a part of Hilliard’s life.
“It’s where I met my wife back in ’76. If it hadn’t been for the restaurant, I wouldn’t have my wife, my kids, my grandkids,” Hilliard said. “It’s not just what I do; it’s a part of me.”
A Tioga police officer woke Hilliard at his house early Monday morning shortly after the call went out. Still in his house shoes, Hilliard arrived and stood in the freezing dark, watching irreplaceable photos, paintings and century-old architecture vanish forever.
“So much of our history has been lost,” Hilliard said.
The restaurant’s walls were decorated with photos of celebrities and athletes who had visited, including Billy Martin, Mickey Mantle and Troy Aikman. Portraits of local ranchers and original paintings by local artists were also lost.
“It’s not just my restaurant; it’s my life,” Hilliard said. “The reality still hasn’t set in.
“I just kept seeing memories go by.”
The first call went out at 2:30 a.m., Tioga fire Chief Paul Rodarmer said. Assistant Chief Elvin Fisk was first on the scene, took command and began fighting the fire, which had already fully engulfed the building by the time firefighters arrived.
“They found the structure fully involved with flames coming from all four sides,” Rodarmer said. “At that point it was, you know, you want to save the structure as much as you can, but when you’ve got flames coming through the roof and from all sides, you don’t have much hope of saving anything. You do what you can.”
Rodarmer said a motorist driving down the highway first spotted the fire and called 911.
Fire departments from around the area responded to the fire, including those from Tioga, Collinsville, North Shore, Whitesboro, Gunter and Pilot Point. Texas-New Mexico Power, Oncor, Texas Vital Care EMS and the Red Cross also responded.
About six or eight fire trucks responded in total, Rodarmer said.
Grayson County Deputy Fire Marshal Kerry Price responded Monday morning to gather evidence for his investigation into the cause. Price said the fire was not suspicious and that it likely started in the attic above the kitchen.
“We look at the incident, what suppression activities have been done, what fire departments have done,” Price said. “Then after that, we take pictures of it, look at it initially, then we start looking at fire patterns, break it down, interview the owner, witnesses.”
Price said a final report would be complete by the end of the week.