EVERMAN -- Ike Jackson had thought he smelled smoke while stocking shelves at the Dollar General store Friday afternoon, but it wasn't until he carried boxes into the storeroom that he realized why.
"I saw big flames," said Jackson, 29. "I ran out and told my manager, 'We got to go! This place is on fire!' Next thing you know, the whole building is going up."
The fire gutted the store at 1829 Everman Parkway, threatened the entire shopping center and forced the evacuation of scores of residents from nearby apartment buildings.
Everman police officer Eric Alexander said most of the fire was confined to the Dollar Store. Some connecting businesses may have smoke and water damage, he said.
The cause of the fire had not been determined Friday afternoon, but Alexander said it was fueled when a gas line ignited.
The fire was called in about 1:30 p.m, he said. By the time police arrived, the manager had cleared people out of the store.
However, dark black smoke pluming toward a neighboring apartment building and worries about the gas line prompted authorities to go door-to-door evacuating residents, Alexander said.
The community center was used as a shelter.
Donnie Wiggins, who lives in a house nearby, said he and his son, a 14-year-old Forest Hill police Explorer, helped with the evacuation.
"We just banged on doors and told everyone to get out," he said. "There were some older ladies and people with young children who were a little scared. There was lots and lots of smoke."
Smoke lingered over the store later Friday afternoon as the owners of surrounding business waited in the flooded parking lot. Lori Durham, owner of Everman Bingo, praised firefighters for not letting the whole shopping center go up in flames.
"It was a big one," she said. "We easily could have lost everything."