Kelowna firefighters extinguish a blaze at the White Stag autobody shop Thursday morning. The fire started when a paint booth overheated while undergoing electrical maintenance. Damage to the main cinder-block structure was extensive.
At its worst, the blaze in Kelowna's industrial north end looked so fierce Thursday morning that the six-member staff would be off the job for months. Owner Frank Vaski said their collision-repair work will continue in a detached back shop and they'll set up a portable building out front.
"It'll take the bulk of (Friday) to get organized. We're booking work for Monday," he said late Thursday afternoon.
"It will affect us on our commercial work. We can't get the big semis in the back for now, but we've talked to the insurance adjusters. They're pleased our goal is to . . . get the front building up to do the commercial work."
Vaski was close enough to the fire that it singed his hair. A paint booth in the back was undergoing electrical maintenance and overheated about 8:45 a.m. He saw the temperature had climbed to 140 C, nearly double the normal level, and the floor burst into flames.
He grabbed a hose and started spraying, but the fire was too intense. He yelled at everyone to get out.
Mark Morgan was working on a truck when he heard the hollering.
"It looked like the floor was on fire," he said. "Forty years of chemicals on the floor and the walls of a body shop can lead to a pretty quick fire."
The wooden roof quickly started burning. Staff managed to drive four vehicles to safety.
Four others - a Sierra pickup, a Ford F-150 and two transport trucks - were destroyed, and two were damaged. A Kelowna Ready Mix cement truck left in a truck booth was unscathed, Vaski said.
A large plume of black smoke rising from the structure on Brant Avenue was visible for kilometres.
Large flames flickered from all sides of the building and roof as firefighters arrived. They sprayed their hoses from outside as concrete cinder blocks started to fail.
Damage to the main cinder-block structure was extensive. The rear part of the roof collapsed; a loader later pulled down a back wall that had cracked.
Thirty firefighters kept the flames from spreading.
As a precaution, police evacuated about 10 residents and construction workers from a new condo building at 1170 Brant Ave.
Andrea Morgan, the building's strata president, saw the flames and black smoke, and heard firefighters yelling commands.
"It's a bit nerve-wracking because we have so many trees behind our complex," she said on a sidewalk with her neighbours. "I feel sorry for (Vaski). He's a very nice gentleman."
The business has operated since 1972. Brandt's Creek, a waterway that runs into Okanagan Lake, flows by the shop across the street.
A haz-mat team controlled water runoff from the fire, and two sucker trucks from the city prevented the chemicals and firefighting foam from entering the creek and storm sewers.
The team tested several water samples and found no contamination, said Platoon Capt. Dale Calhoun.
Firefighters set up industrial fans to blow smoke and flames from the shop's main office to protect business records. Crews kept fire away from 40 45-gallon barrels of thinners and other hazardous materials. An electrician disconnected power to the building.
The back of the structure sustained the heaviest damage, and crews worked all day to overhaul the building.
"It's a real dangerous fire," said Deputy Chief Darren Lee of the Kelowna Fire Dept. "Any time (there's) a commercial/industrial fire with the presence of chemicals, you've got to be very cautious . . . (especially) with the building collapsing in the back."
One person was taken to hospital with smoke inhalation, but no one was injured. The building is insured.