Flames gutted a Grovetown tire and auto care store Thursday night, destroying at least two cars and a truck parked inside the business and causing dozens of small explosions from tires.
Investigators with the Grovetown Department of Public Safety will continue this morning trying to piece together what caused the devastating blaze at Olson Tire Total Car Care, 5106 Wrightsboro Road.
One thing is known.
The shop's seven employees still will have jobs this morning, said Carl Messmer, Olson's division manager for the 14 stores in the Athens-Augusta area.
"We can always rebuild," he said late Thursday night.
Mr. Messmer, who transferred to the Augusta-Athens division a week ago from Orlando, arrived at the fire at about 11:30 p.m. as firefighters were putting down thick layers of foam to smother the remains of the fire.
Engine companies from three fire departments battled the blaze for more than two hours, said Richard Taylor, a Grovetown public safety officer.
The intense fire ignited the tires in storage and pieces of exploding rubber shot out from the top of the building, littering the car center's parking lot.
The fire was reported by people who saw smoke coming from the building, Mr. Taylor said. "When we arrived, the top end (of the building) where the tires are stored was ablaze."
One employee told authorities that the store did have trouble with the building's furnace earlier Thursday, but whether that is linked to the fire was not known late Thursday night.
The Grovetown, Martinez and Fort Gordon fire departments fought the fire and the Appling Fire Department was on standby. Because of the volatile nature of the burning tires, firefighters struggled to put down blaze.
Adding to the difficulty was the fact that the Grovetown fire department does not have a ladder truck and had to wait on one from another fire departments to get to flames shooting up through the roof, officials said.
Grovetown resident Dawn Maynard was one of dozens of people lining the side of Wrightsboro Road watching in dismay as the building went up in flames. Ms. Maynard said her father's Dodge truck was destroyed in the burning building.
"He brought his truck up here just a couple of hours ago, and now it's burning," she said.
The owner of the store had not been reached late Thursday and at least one of the managers was out of town, Mr. Taylor said. There was a delay in reaching Mr. Messmer, who is staying in a local motel until he can relocate here.
He said he was asleep and heard his cell phone ringing but it took some time for him to find it.
Despite the fierce nature of the blaze none of the 25-plus firefighters on the scene were injured, said Mark Bowen, public information officer for the Grovetown Department of Public Safety.
No damage estimate was available late Thursday.
"I don't even know where to start," Capt. Bowen said.
Reach Ashlee Griggs at (706) 868-1222 or Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225.