Fire destroys downtown Laurel Auto Parts store

2012-09-27T20:14:00Z 2012-10-03T16:06:26Z Fire destroys downtown Laurel Auto Parts storeBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

8:30 A.M.: Laurel Volunteer Fire Department investigators are searching for the cause of the fire that destroyed the Laurel Auto Parts store on Thursday night.

Fire Chief Brent Peters said firefighters got the blaze under control by about 1:30 a.m. Friday. One engine company remained on the scene overnight and continued pouring water on smoldering hot spots Friday morning.

The Laurel police officers provided security through the night and were stationed at barricades around the area. Laurel Public Works staff also remained on scene for assistance. East Main Street remained closed for several blocks on either side of the auto parts store at 309 E. Main St.

About 32 firefighters from Laurel and surrounding fire departments battled the fire, which was reported at 7:36 p.m. When firefighters arrived, they found heavy smoke coming from the rear of the building, Peters said.

The store had miscellaneous motor oils, chemicals, fluids and parts that were stored on the site, the chief said.

Three Laurel engine companies, along with a command and a support vehicle, responded to the initial call. Mutual aid also was provided by the Billings Fire Department, which sent one engine, a ladder truck and a water tender; and the Molt, Joliet and Park City fire departments, Peters said.

The cause and origin of the fire has not yet been identified, Peters said.

No damage to other structures has been found, he said.


 

7 A.M.: Laurel firefighters continue to pour water on the remains of the Laurel Auto Parts store that was destroyed in a Thursday night fire.

Laurel Fire Department Capt. Brian Fox said that one fire engine remained on the scene overnight, spraying hot spots. He said flames are still flaring from the debris, so firefighters will continue to douse the area until the flames are fully extinguished.

East Main Street is closed for several blocks around the store. Laurel police are providing security in the area.


OVERNIGHT REPORT:

LAUREL — A fire that sent columns of flames, smoke and steam 100 feet into the air destroyed Laurel Auto Parts on East Main Street on Thursday night.

“It’s a total loss,” said Wayne Halvorson, owner of the store at 309 E. Main St. Halverson has owned the store since 1960.

As the fire burned, patrons from the Palace Bar and Lanes, 305 E. Main St., on one side and from Fat Jack’s Taproom, 317 E. Main St., on the other were evacuated. Neither of those buildings appeared to be damaged in the fire.

East Main Street was closed while crews from Laurel, Billings, Park City, Joliet and Molt battled the blaze. Billings also brought its ladder truck.

Ryan Weis, who owns the Palace, was the first to spot the flames.

Employees of the Palace smelled smoke from the alley and went out to investigate, said Darbie Giest, a Palace employee. Palace employees were the first to call the fire department.

“It’s not good,” said Giest. “As long as everyone’s safe, that’s all that matters.”

Crowds packed the streets behind and in front of the auto parts store. The flames were punctuated by occasional explosions from within the store.

Terry Ruff, assistant chief of the Laurel Fire Department, said the fire easily ranks with some of the worst in the city’s history. Ruff has been with the fire department for 23 years.

Ruff said it was much too early to speculate on a cause. The investigation into the fire probably won’t start until Friday morning, he said. He expected the crews would be battling the flames through the night.

Firefighters arrived on the scene just after 8 p.m. Ruff guessed they had maxed out the city’s department with all the water the trucks and firefighters poured on the flames.

The smoke pouring from the auto parts store had an acrid smell and paramedics regularly checked the firefighters for signs that they’d been affected by the toxic-smelling plumes.

At one point, a firefighter was walked to the back of an ambulance, where he was given oxygen.

With all the different materials in the store — automotive fluids, car batteries and paint — the chemicals in the smoke were probably dangerous, Ruff said.

Halvorson watched his store burn from the street, spending most of his time with a pair of friends standing on East Main. They spent some time talking, but mostly just watched.

Halvorson doesn’t know what happened and probably won’t until after the investigation.

“Nothing you can do,” he said. “What is is.”

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