CiCi’s Pizza was evacuated at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday when smoke poured out of two air conditioning vents in the dining room.

General Manager Robert Seabourn said his first priority was to get the guests and employees out safely, but said nobody needed coaxing as the ceiling area filled with white smoke.

“We smelled something like wire or rubber burning,” Seabourn said.

Seabourn said the burning smell prompted him to call the fire department immediately, and he then turned off the air-conditioning when he saw the white smoke coming through the front two air conditioning vents.

“There were no problems seeing or breathing,” Seabourn said.

Volunteer employees took drinks out to the approximate 50 people evacuated into the parking lot in the midday sun as firemen responded to the call. All the patrons got a free meal coupon, as well as those who walked up to dine.

Seabourn said fire officials believe the smoke was caused from a belt on an air conditioning unit.

Owner Milo Choate said he came out as soon as he got the phone call to see what he could do to help and was pleased with the way Seabourn handled the situation.

“He did exactly what he should’ve done,” Choates said. “His first priority was the safety of our guests. Then he showed a real interest that no guest left without being compensated - protecting our name and our brand.”

Choates said he expects the episode to cost a minimum of $1,500 in lost sales, plus food that had to be thrown out.

Even at that he said, he feels fortunate that it wasn’t any worse.

ANGELIA JOINER is a staff writer for the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at or (254) 965-3124,ext. 238