By Katie Demeria
STRASBURG -- Fire gutted A-1 Auto Sales and Towing on Friday.
Firefighters arrived at the business located at 237 John Marshall Highway at around 12:15 p.m., according to Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue Deputy Chief Bill Streett.
Streett said the building was a total loss.
Authorities closed John Marshall Highway shortly after arriving. Though the early morning rain had stopped, smoke billowing away from the building was exacerbated by the wind, seriously impairing visibility on the road.
Streett said crews were taking a defensive strategy to combat the fire, as the entire building was engulfed by the time they arrived on scene. Flames were visible from all four walls.
"There are a lot of combustible, flammable liquids in there. It makes fighting it very difficult," Streett said.
Tires within the building also prevented crews from getting inside the building.
"There's just no way to justify getting inside," Streett said. "We're going to keep working on it from out here."
At 1:30 p.m., Streett said his crews had a pretty good handle on the flames.
Several employees and at least one customer were inside the business's office at the time of the fire. Margaret Harris was inside with her 2-year-old nephew Payne Harris, and a friend's 12-year-old son.
Everything happened quickly, Harris said. Workers were putting her car on the lift when suddenly "everything caught fire," she said.
"They just ran out to me and told me to call 911," she said. "The whole building was full of smoke."
Harris, Payne and her friend's son sat on the lawn of the lot beside the burning building, watching firefighters take down the flames.
Her brother Robert Harris, an employee, was working at the time of the fire. Robert Harris said he saw a spark, and then the flames seemed to immediately spread to the ceiling.
"The whole ceiling was caught," Robert Harris said.
He said he tried to spray the ceiling with water, but the attempt made little difference to the flames, which were aggressive from the start.
Terry King, the business's owner, was not in the building at the time of the fire, but arrived on scene shortly after it began.
"The wiring in there goes across the entire ceiling," King said. "It's old, with paper insulation."
He started the business in 1988, and he said he does have insurance. Though employees were able to remove one Cadillac, another Cadillac, a car on a lift and two motorcycles were not salvageable.
Middletown Volunteer Fire and Rescue, Strasburg Fire Department, Strasburg Volunteer Rescue Squad, Toms Brook Fire and Rescue, Woodstock Fire and Rescue, along with Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue, responded. The Strasburg Police Department assisted with traffic control.
Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org