Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, February 1, 1999

Fire consumes Lester Prairie auto body shop

By Luis Puga

Fire destroyed Coachwork Connection auto body shop at 412 1st Ave. in Lester Prairie Tuesday.

At approximately 8 p.m., Fred Blaser and Bill Kocourek witnessed flames coming out of the left garage door at Coachwork Connection. They called the fire department, and both Lester Prairie and Winsted responded.

Owner Tom Westrup was out of town at the time and arrived an hour after the fire departments did.

"It was pretty much gone by then," he said.

Lester Prairie Fire Chief Jerry Pawelk also said that the fire spread very rapidly.

"The fire spread as fast as I could walk alongside the building," he said.

The departments were able to control the fire after about 10 to 15 minutes and kept it from any other buildings in the immediate vicinity.

Pawelk said that the cause was accidental and there is no need to investigate.

He believes the blaze began above the garage door where remodeling was being done on the ceiling, and there was a space between two ceilings. He believes the source was probably electrical.

Westrup said that he was in the process of remodeling and had just put a new roof on the building two months ago. He was also in the process of removing the siding to add insulation to the building, and was about to add new siding and a new garage door. "Now I need a little bit more," he said.

Reflecting on the incident as he surveyed the damage, Westrup said, "It could've been worse. It could always be worse. If there was anybody inside or whatever. The building is one thing, but it could always be worse."

Some items did survive the blaze. A snowmobile and one car were said to only be covered in soot by the fire. However, Westrup said another car in the garage was a complete loss.

As for future plans, Westrup said, "I have no idea yet." At the scene the next day, Westrup was videotaping the damage for his own records.

Pawelk said the building was a total loss. Fortunately, firemen were able to perform their duty without injury, and Pawelk was thankful of the mutual aid from Winsted's department.

One pumper truck and additional aid was also sent from Glencoe.

Perhaps the worse incident to come out of the blaze was that at some point between Tuesday and Wednesday morning, someone broke into Westrup's office, which was relatively unscathed by the fire, and stole valuable items.

Westrup said that he was surprised that someone would have the audacity for such a crime.
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