Herald JournalHerald Journal, Feb. 24, 2003

Fire destroys shed, office at Balow's Auto Salvage

By Ryan Gueningsman

Dense smoke could be seen for more than two miles Wednesday when a fire destroyed the garage and office building at Balow's Highway 7 Auto Salvage, just north of Lester Prairie, just before noon.

The back bumper of a mini-van, which was raised on a lift, was being worked on in the garage when the fire started, said Lester Prairie Fire Chief Jim Hoof.

"That bumper was being torched, and somehow a spark must have gotten inside the back seat of the van," Hoof said. "That caught fire, and it went through the roof of the van. It got to the ceiling, which has sprayed foam insulation. That is quite flammable and creates a dense smoke when started on fire."

The fire spread to the roof area and throughout the rest of the garage.

"The fire spread rapidly, and there was nothing to keep it out of the office area," Hoof said.

The Balows were able to get their computer and some papers out, but were not sure if the computer's hard drive would be salvageable because of the heat and smoke damage.

The Balows have owned the junk yard for about six-and-a-half years, and have not had a fire before.

In a case like this, the fire departments have an additional risk in that there may be flammable materials in and around the buildings, Hoof noted.

"We found out there were a few barrels of waste oil," Hoof said. "You just need to be aware of the hazard. They (the Balows) run a pretty clean business. There was no gas that we ran into, but there were two settling tanks, and we're thankful those didn't blow."

In addition to the Lester Prairie, the Winsted and New Germany fire departments sent mutual aid.

"Winsted and New Germany both sent seven guys. Winsted was called right away, and New Germany not long after," Hoof said.

Three members of the Glencoe Fire Department also responded with its county air van. The van is owned by all the departments in the county and is used for filling air tanks.

"We really appreciate the work all four of the departments did," said owner Teri Balow. "We're setting up an office in a house on the property, and there are a lot of friends and family who are bringing shovels to help with the cleanup."

The departments were at Balow's for over two hours working the blaze. Both buildings were damaged beyond repair.

"The steel support beams are twisted and unformed ­ it's really unsafe," Hoof said. "It needs to be torn down as soon as the insurance companies give the OK.

"It's a complete loss. There's nothing that's salvageable. You hate to see any business lost, but you're just thankful all the employees got out and that there were no injuries."

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