A structure fire in East Billings partially gutted a large industrial building early Wednesday morning, causing extensive damage to an auto mechanic shop and heavy smoke damage to two other businesses, according to the Billings Fire Department.
The building houses COR Automotive, the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and The Grindhouse, a mixed martial arts gym.
The building takes up half of the block between North 16th and 17th streets and First and Second avenues north and appeared to be unoccupied when the fire broke out, and no injuries were reported, according to Billings Fire Battalion Chief Jason Lyon.
Flames and smoke were erupting from the portion of the building that houses COR Automotive, Lyon said later Wednesday morning. The blaze was first reported shortly after 1 a.m.
The fire department estimated the total damage from the fire at $750,000 in a press release sent Wednesday afternoon.
The Grindhouse and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore continued assessing damage throughout the day. Will Grundhauser owns and operates The Grindhouse with his wife Britani. Grundhauser said he learned about the fire Wednesday morning while he was hunting in Sweet Grass County. While on a mountain he turned on his phone and shortly after received roughly 50 messages about what had happened.
"Most of my stuff is ruined — thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars worth of stuff, and I won't be able to get back into the space to recover it until they call it structurally sound," Grundhauser said. "We're a small business. It's just me and my wife. We're not in a great position to really have this happen. We just got free and clear to where we owned everything in there, and now everything's destroyed, just completely ruined. I'm still in shock."
Grundhauser said he and his wife, who is about 20 weeks pregnant, were planning to sit down late Wednesday afternoon and try to work out a plan going forward. Gym members had been contacting him throughout the day showing him support, and Grundhauser said he was looking into organizing a meeting to update them on the gym's situation.
A post to the Billings Habitat for Humanity ReStore's Facebook page Wednesday stated the business will be closed until further notice as damage assessment continues.
"Our heart goes out to the owner and employees of Cor Automotive during this time," the post stated.
A later post to the same Facebook page described products covered with ash and severe water damage in the ReStore.
"We are continuing to assess the damage," the post states.
Four fire engines, a fire truck and a battalion chief initially responded to the incident, and Lyon said an additional backup unit was called in once firefighters arrived.
"We were able to control the fire probably within the first half hour using the master stream nozzles on the ladder" truck, Lyon said. "Because we were able to knock the fire down, most of the fire damage appears to be limited to the northwest side of the building."
Substantial fire damage inside the auto garage was visible from Second Avenue North, and portions of the roof and the building's north and west outer walls were visibly burnt. Police tape had been used to block pedestrian traffic along the sidewalk, which Lyon said was due to possible structural weaknesses on the northwest corner of the building.
The cause of the fire remains unknown, Lyon said.
The department's press release later in the day placed the origin of the fire inside the auto shop, but noted that investigators had been unable to access the building.
"The building sustained severe structural damage limiting safe entry by investigators," the release stated. "The cause of the fire will continue to be under investigation until safe entry can be made. An engineer is on site evaluating the building."
Tuesday morning traffic was blocked off on Second Avenue between North 17th and 16th streets, as well as the 100 block of North 17th Street.