Pepsi plant owners moving on from Wednesday fire

2012-03-29T13:00:00Z 2014-08-25T23:53:19Z Pepsi plant owners moving on from Wednesday fireBy ZACH BENOIT The Billings Gazette

Less than a day after a fire destroyed part of his family's Pepsi bottling plant, Mike Dimich said the damage isn't what matters.

"By and large, the two most important things are that no one was hurt and we can fix things," he said.

On Wednesday night, an old wooden railcar filled with cardboard and a few soda bottles caught fire at the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co., 344 Howard Ave.

Billings firefighters managed to put it out by about 8 p.m., but not before the fire destroyed the railcar and spread to a warehouse holding more than 30 vehicles, many of them classic cars.

"It had the potential to spread to that warehouse more and the potential to damage a lot of those cars," said Phil White, a battalion chief with the Billings Fire Department. "Our guys really did a good job getting it out as fast as they could."

Deputy Fire Marshal Jeff McCullough estimated damage at $200,000, and the fire's cause remains under investigation.

Dimich said the fire wouldn't affect operations, and by 7:30 a.m. employees were back at work.

About a half dozen of the cars in the warehouse, including a 1930s Ford Model A delivery truck and a 1948 Jeepster, were damaged. Dimich arrived at the business at about 4:30 a.m. on Thursday and began removing the cars and washing off layers of smoke and soot from the ones that were farther from the flames.

"Most of it's just blistering paint," he said. "It's charred-looking stuff but it's really just paint damage. With the time, money and effort you can fix any of it."

Several of them also needed a little interior work, with seats reduced to ashes and charred and melted interiors. All of the vehicles were scattered about the property by 10 a.m., drying in the sun after a recent wash or waiting to be restored.

But most of the cars making it out with minimal damage isn't what he was most thankful for by midmorning.

"We've been here for quite a while," Dimich said of the business, which has been in Billings since 1954 after moving from Red Lodge. "I had people calling at 6, 6:30 this morning saying, 'We'll help with whatever you need.' That just makes you feel good. That means the world."

While looking over the property, Dimich also said the fire could've been much worse, that the community response has been inspiring and that they'll be OK.

"The insurance guys will come over," he said. "You pull out the burned-out stuff and you replace it and you move forward."



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