Fire destroys auto shop at Wholesome Foods Inc.

Firefighters battle the blaze at the auto shop at Wholesome Foods Inc. on Wednesday night. Photo courtesy of Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue

EDINBURG — Fire destroyed the auto shop building at Wholesome Foods Inc. on South Ox Road near Edinburg on Wednesday evening.

John Collins, public information officer for the Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue, reported area fire companies were called to the business at 8:24 p.m. to contain the fire at the auto shop. Crews originally entered the building to fight the fire, Collins said, but had to evacuate once it became too unsafe.

Crews went on a “defensive attack” by putting water on the outside of the building, Collins said.

Although there was a pond behind the facility, crews had difficulty drawing water from it so a “tanker task force” was called to haul 91,000 gallons of water to the scene from three hydrants on Stoney Creek Boulevard in Edinburg.

“There was a lot of fire, it was a pretty big building and there was a lot of flammable stuff in there,” Collins said. “Crews knew it would take a lot of water.”

Gerardo Ortega, an employee of Wholesome Foods Inc., wheels a trash can outside the garage that was destroyed by fire Wednesday night at the Edinburg business. The business's deli and butcher shop are open for business and were not affected by the fire. Rich Cooley/Daily

Crews were able to keep the fire from spreading to other buildings at the facility, as well as to nearby tanks containing several thousand gallons of gasoline and fuel. However, the 7,247 square-foot garage, built in 1970 and assessed at $183,461, was “pretty much all destroyed,” Collins said.

The structure’s roof caved in and the western wall had fallen over. Two trailers and two semi trucks, along with a forklift, platform lift and tools, were lost in the fire.

Collins also reported one firefighter was taken to the hospital with a minor injury and no employees were hurt. Collins said Thursday the injured firefighter was a member of the Edinburg Volunteer Fire Company and was treated and released from the hospital.

Crews were on the scene until after 1 a.m. Thursday, a news release stated. David Ferguson, the Shenandoah County Fire Marshal, has begun an investigation into the cause of the fire. Collins said that as of Thursday, it seems to have been an accident.

Aaron Delauder, 27, a mechanic at Wholesome Foods, was present at the fire. “It all went pretty quick” when a heater at the center of the garage caught fire and spread up the wall to the ceiling, he said.

The fire scene outside Wholesome Foods Inc. is taped off Thursday following a Wednesday night fire. Rich Cooley/Daily

“My co-worker was working on the trailer right beside the heater and we could hear the crackling and we knew exactly what it was,” Delauder said.

The pair tried to put out the flame with fire extinguishers and a garden hoses, but after five minutes, they had to flee to safety. It was at that point Dalauder dialed 911.

He said flames were not too out of control when the fire department arrived, but he said he believed water difficulties caused delays in controlling it.

“When they got here, it was going through the roof where it was the hottest and it had about two foot flames out of there,” Delauder said. “It seemed like they couldn’t keep the water here … the pond was froze up.”

Collins said the fire was the largest in Shenandoah County since the Alms House fire in Maurertown in April 2014.

A piece of the metal roof rests in the parking lot outside the garage that was destroyed by fire Wednesday night at Wholesome Foods Inc. Rich Cooley/Daily

“When we measure a fire, we look at the size of the fire, the size of the structure, the amount of water used and how many companies were called to the fire,” Collins said. “This was definitely the biggest one we’ve seen in a while.”

The standard response to a structural fire in Shenandoah County is three engine companies, a ladder company and a rescue squad.

At Wednesday night’s blaze, the Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue, the Edinburg Volunteer Fire Company, the Toms Brook Volunteer Fire Department, the Mount Jackson Rescue and Fire Company, the Woodstock Fire Department, Conicville Fire Department, Orkney Springs Fire and Rescue Inc., the Woodstock Volunteer Rescue and the Strasburg Volunteer Rescue Squad responded to the scene. The Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department took command of the scene.

During the fire, South Ox Road was closed from Stoney Creek Boulevard to South Middle Road, with the Sheriff’s Office providing traffic control.

In a phone interview Thursday, Nathan Pence, vice president of Wholesome Foods, said the company would like to extend its gratitude to the community at large for its support.

“We just want to thank all the fire people and the local businesses who have stepped up in to help us at this time,” Pence said. “We’re going to get through this rough patch and we plan to rebuild.”

Pence added with the exception of the repair shop, Wholesome Foods is open for business.

Dean Pence, owner of Wholesome Foods, said the company would use a bay at Appalachian Truck Service in Edinburg while the garage is being rebuilt.

Wholesome Foods, a diversified small family business owned by the Pence family of Edinburg, is located at 986 South Ox Road. The company, which celebrated its 50th year in business last October, employs more than 50 people.

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com