WAHOO -- Charlie Emswiler will remember Wednesday as one of the best days of his life.
And one of the worst.
His blond-haired daughter, Leah, celebrated her first birthday -- and his business, the Wahoo Locker, caught fire.
Home of the popular “Wahoo Wiener,” a smoked hot dog with a great reputation and flavor, the locker is also where many folks here buy their meat.
Emswiler got the recipe for the wiener about 15 years ago and has been making it since, much to the delight of hot dog fans in Nebraska and elsewhere. On Wednesday, they were filling a lot of graduation orders.
“I don’t know where it started or anything for sure, but it started in back of the building,” said Emswiler, holding Leah on his lap. “I don’t believe this is happening.”
Yards away, firefighters were busy putting out hot spots in the building at 157 W. Fifth St. The charred shell of the back of the building was visible from the street.
Emswiler was making salads for graduation parties when he saw smoke coming from the smokehouse.
“It was hot and it smelled really bad,” he said.
He and four employees who were cutting meat fled the building after he called 911 at 2:05 p.m.. No one was injured.
Wahoo Fire Department Chief Corey Wagner said firefighters had the fire under control by about 4:15 p.m.
He said the fire started in the southwest corner of the building but he didn’t know the cause. An investigator from the State Fire Marshal’s Office was on the scene.
“I’m guessing it’s a total loss,” Wagner said.
Firefighters from Ceresco Rural Fire Department, Weston Rural Fire District, Valparaiso Fire Department, Cedar Bluffs Fire Department and Mead Rural Fire District No. 8 helped Wahoo.
Wagner said their efforts were hampered when a water main across the street broke after firefighters connected a hose to a hydrant.
“We just went down a block,” he said.
“As long as there’s no loss of life, that’s the main thing," said Mark Cejka of Wahoo. "He’ll bounce back. A lot of people like him and they’ll help him out."
Cejka and his wife, Joann, who works at the locker, were at a graduation practice at St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church. When they heard the fire whistle blow, they stepped outside and saw smoke, he said.
“The whole south part of town was just covered in gray smoke," said Wahoo resident Jeremy Barnhill. "It was so thick you couldn’t see half the firefighters on top of the building trying to fight it.”
Emswiler didn’t have a chance to go inside to assess fire damage, but he has a contingency plan.
He recently bought the old lumber yard building just to the west of the meat locker and was remodeling it for a planned move in about four months.
So he has a place to go, but he may have to buy new equipment and said he probably lost some inventory, too.
“Not a very good birthday present,” Emswiler said.