Flames destroy local auto body shop

Source: Scott Whritenour
Source: Scott Whritenour

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A man's dream went up in smoke after a massive fire destroyed his business in Richmond Sunday morning.

Fire crews worked for hours to contain a fire at an auto repair shop on West Clay Street near Boulevard.

The fire closed down nearby streets and smoke overtook the entire area.

Eyewitnesses say the blaze started in a dumpster behind the shop, jumped to a power pole, and overtook the auto shop in just minutes.

"We saw the electrical sheathing on the power line caught on fire and it came loose and it looked like it slapped the garage door. It took a matter of minutes before that place was up in flames," said Scott Whritenour.

The shop's owner, Alexander Andrewski, was inside at the time working with his brother-in-law.

Within moments, they knew they were fighting for their lives.

"We couldn't even see daylight. So we managed to get out of the building and go to the right in front of the building to get away from the smoke," said Andrewski.

"I didn't beat the smoke out. By the time I got to the front door I was, I was looking for daylight, said Jim Finderson.

The flames started lapping up the building quickly. Followed by explosions, triggered from all of the car chemicals inside the shop.

"These types of structures, you know there's a lot of materials inside that could be flammable or explosive so we have to use extreme caution, said Lt. Robbie Hagaman of the Richmond Fire Dept.

Smoke plumes overtook the structure and walls fell, as fire crews worked from above and below to contain the blaze.

Outside, Andrewski saw his family business, just a month old, crumble.

"My whole life savings. Every dime I owned. Everything, everything, everything. I don't know what I'm going to do now. I have no retirement money. I just, I just don't know what I'm going to do," said Andrewski.

Andrewski says he didn't have his company insurance straightened out yet. Now, he's just trying to figure out what he can possibly salvage from this, problems as basic as how he'll pay his rent.

The official cause of the fire is still under investigation.

At this point, no word yet on whether there will be any charges.

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