CANTON, Ohio – From his home across the street, Jerry Humes said he could feel the intense heat as flames engulfed the Auto Specialties Dealership across the street early Monday.
Humes says he first noticed a little bit of smoke coming from the business and never imagined it would have erupted into a massive blaze.
“The fire trucks were here early and it seemed pretty much setting their hoses up and it looked like they had it under control for quite some time; and then progressively, as time went on this morning, it just got much much worse to the point where the smoke was black and the fire was huge,” said Humes.
Firefighters went into the building soon after arriving, but made a quick exit believing it to be too great of a risk.
“There was heavy smoke in the building and we were trying to determine where the fire was, if it was up above or below. We saw a lot of smoke coming from the cracks in the basement and we determined it was in the basement at that time,” said Fire Chief Steve Rich.
“We determined it was spreading under us so we determined it was unsafe you know could have a floor collapse and guys go to the basement for no good reason.”
As the flames spread, Rich says acetalyne tanks inside blew.
Two cars were inside the building, one of them being repaired. Both collapsed into the basement.
Auto Specialties owner Tom Bowersox says the first he heard anything about the fire was when he got a phone call from a fire restoration company at 7 a.m.
“Hung up on her and I get a call ten minutes later from the fire department who I almost hung up on them because I thought it was another prank,” said Bowersox.
“They asked for somebody to get a key here so they could get into the building. I called everybody that’s here, because we all have keys, tried to get here so we could get inside; try to figure out where the fire is or where the smoke is coming from or whatever and the next thing you know it’s- I find out on my way here that it’s done,” he added.
Employees said the last anyone was in the building was when they closed at noon on Saturday. The business is not open on Sunday.
Cleveland Avenue between 21st street and 22nd street was closed most of the day Monday as investigators picked through the rubble of the building trying to determine a cause.
Bowersox said two of the cars he had outside the building sustained minor heat-related damage. Most of the cars in his inventory were not damaged by the fire and were able to be moved a safe distance away.
Although the building was a total loss, Bowersox said he was trying to determine how to communicate with his customers that he was still going to be operating his business.
“We will figure out some way to get notification to our cistomers how they can still get payments to us and we will answer their questions if they have problems or whatever. At this point I dont know what we are doing,” said Bowersox.
Employees were equally at a loss.
“Where do you go from here? What do you do?” asked Renee Brown, saying, “I don’t know what to make of it quite yet. It’s just sad.”