A day after a fire ripped through a Pine River auto dealership Tuesday, Aug. 17, the owner was still in shock and facing a lot of uncertainty.
“This is more than just a building, it’s your livelihood when you own it,” Kade Vershey said Wednesday, Aug. 18, of his dealership, Kimber Creek Ford on Highway 371 in Pine River. “Someone tells you it’s on fire and off you go.
“I’ve owned the dealership for six years and we’ve never had a fire.”
The fire was reported around 7:30 p.m., with the 911 caller stating the building was engulfed in flames with black smoke throughout, according to the police scanner. Multiple fire departments responded with about 50-60 firefighters from Backus, Pine River, Pequot Lakes, Crosslake and Ideal fire departments.
A week later, Pine River Fire Chief Kraig King said investigation into the fire revealed that much of the service bay area sustained heavy smoke and water damage. Structural damage is still being assessed before Vershey can determine the extent of repairs needed.
If they are extensive it may be necessary to completely replace that structure, but so far it's clear that none of the equipment is salvageable.
King said some of the smoke damage had escaped the shop, but was quickly cleaned up.
Vershey said no vehicles on the lot were damaged.
Preliminary investigations haven't pinned down a cause of the fire, but identified the origin inside a vehicle in the shop. The day after the fire there was uncertainty whether any vehicles were in the shop at all.
“We don’t know all those answers yet,” Vershey said last week. “I think we had two used vehicles that were in the shop in detail, but we don’t have all the specific information because we have to let the insurance and fire marshal people get through their process without disturbing the area.”
Almost all the dealership is back to its normal operations, with plans to open the service department once a temporary space can be found.
"Our sales department is operating. Our parts are at a bit of a limited capacity but we're getting that rolling," Vershey said. "I'm hoping to have a temporary operation site for our service department in the next two weeks."
Service could take place off site temporarily while awaiting repairs. He said he would welcome any tips or recommendations.
"My concern at this point is in finding a temporary space," Vershey said. "If I can find that, even if it means we have to run a day shift and a night shift to kind of put it together, that's what we're going to do. We're going to find some way to take care of our customers. I just don't have all the answers quite yet."
King said last week when his fire crew arrived on scene there was heavy smoke in the whole service bay area and smoke in the offices.
“The garage windows were made of glass and you couldn’t see in any of them,” King said. “That is how thick the smoke was. There were no flames showing, just smoke.”
King said the fire was contained in the service bay area, and he gave kudos to all the fire departments for their help in containing the fire and making sure it was entirely out. Fire crews took turns going inside to check on hot spots. Crews were ventilating the building and reporting there were lots of hot spots.
Fire crews were battling the heat inside and outside with the air temperature still at 84 degrees at 8:45 p.m.
Initial reports included a witness reporting hearing an explosion.
The dealership was closed when the fire was reported.
Starting Wednesday, the company plans to do regular scheduled updates on its Facebook page and website, as well as in advertisements in newspaper and radio.
Pine River Police, North Memorial Health Ambulance and the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office Drone Team assisted on scene.
The Echo Journal contributed updates to this story that published online at pineandlakes.com on Tuesday, Aug. 17.