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Fire, explosions destroy auto parts warehouse on Route 19;

Cleanup has to handle possible chemical contamination

by Paul Leakan


(June 8) GORE -- An auto parts warehouse burst into flames early Sunday morning, sending shards of glass and scraps of sheet metal toward Route 19, just north of Clarksburg.

The Automotive Recycling Inc. warehouse, located less than a mile past United Technical Center, caught fire sometime before 5 a.m.

Fueled by oil, the blaze sent several waves of explosions through the building, according to Spelter Fire Chief Mark Hartman.

The building housed auto parts ranging from engine blocks to hub-caps. Now a charred skeleton of sagging sheet metal, the building was declared a total loss -- an estimated quarter of a million dollars in damage, Hartman said.

About 45 firefighters from Spelter, Lumberport, Nutter Fort, Shinnston, Summit Park and Bridgeport converged on the scene to douse the flames. The fire was extinguished around 10 a.m. No one was injured.

But make no mistake, this was no easy task.

Water supply difficulties, burning tires and the possibility of freon, oxygen, propane and acetylene cans igniting inside the building presented a dangerous scenario, Hartman said.

"The nearest water is 1,800 feet away," Hartman said, adding that access to water supplies should be no farther than 1,000 feet. "A few hundred gallons of oil burning, which caused 30 plus cars to catch on fire, a huge building on fire, plus tires burning -- that's not your normal, everyday call. It's like fighting three fires."

And it could have been worse.

With water supplies far off, firefighters struggled to stretch their hoses close enough to spray the flames. A slice of the roof peeled away and blew to the other side of Route 19. And the intense heat even scorched a seat in the Spelter Fire Department's fire truck, which was parked across the street.

The firefighters, however, came well-equipped. Making use of an elevated tower provided by the Nutter Fort Fire Department, the six-department crew tamed the fire in less than five hours.

The warehouse's owner, Ron Kimble, is now faced with difficulty of cleaning up the site. Kimble was unavailable for comment.

Dismantling the smoldering remains isn't the only job left, however. Chemical run-off, washed down by the rain, could seep into a nearby stream.

An emergency response team from Charleston and Alert Environmental Contracting Inc. have already begun taking action by clearing a mass of junk cars that were burnt when the fire spread.

The Division of Environmental Protection is also assisting in assessing the environmental impact.

Currently there aren't any free-products, or visible oil on top of the water in the stream. The fire consumed it all, according to a spokesman for Alert. It should take about two days to secure the area from any potential environmental contamination.

The cause of the fire has not been determined. Mack Dennis, with the state fire marshal's office, is investigating.