Fire destroys one local business, damages another

By Abby Morris
Star Staff

   A fire destroyed one local business and caused moderate damage to another Monday afternoon according to emergency workers. No one was injured in the blaze.
   The fire claimed Bumper to Bumper, an automotive repair and body shop located at 217 Lover's Lane. The business was owned by Blake Baldwin, who was inside when the fire began.
   The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but officials suspect the blaze may have begun when fumes from a leak in a gas tank of a vehicle which was being worked on ignited.
   "The fellow said the only thing he knew was that he pulled a truck in to work on a gas tank that had a leak in it and that may have caused it," said Dale Smalling, Watauga Volunteer Fire Department chief. "He also had a kerosene heater in there that worked on a thermostat. He seems to think that the fumes from the gas tank may have been ignited by the kerosene heater."
   Whatever caused the fire to ignite also caused an explosion, according to Smalling. "It had to be an explosion of some kind," he said. "One whole wall of the building was blown out."
   According to Baldwin, he was inside the office portion of the building eating his lunch when he heard an explosion and came out to find his business on fire. Baldwin attempted to combat the blaze himself, but it soon grew to be too much for him to fight on his own.
   In addition to the gas tanks of the two vehicles which were parked inside the garage portion of the building, other potential explosion hazards faced emergency workers who were responding to the scene.
   According to Smalling, inside the building were tanks containing acetylene and oxygen, both of which are highly flammable and can explode. "It could have been really bad with those tanks in there, but we were lucky," Smalling said.
   As firefighters from area volunteer fire departments were responding to the scene along with other emergency personnel, small explosions could be heard inside the building. One emergency worker was overheard describing the incident as "popping like the Fourth of July."
   When emergency workers arrived at the scene, the building containing Bumper to Bumper was fully engulfed in flames and the fire had spread to the building next door, D & S Automotive, which sustained some damage in the blaze.
   As workers rushed to get the blaze under control, which eventually claimed the entire building containing Bumper to Bumper along with its contents, other workers rushed to keep the damage to the neighboring building to a minimum.
   No one was in the building housing D & S Automotive and emergency workers had to force their way into the building in order to combat the fire which had attacked the wooden gables of the building.
   Smalling described the damage done to the D & S Automotive building as "moderate."