A.L. business victim of fire

Published 10:10 am Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fire and smoke engulfed Hanson Tire Service in downtown Albert Lea Tuesday afternoon, damaging the company’s six main service bays and impairing the front office and showroom with smoke. No one was injured.

According to Albert Lea Fire Department Lt. Al Schallock, the fire is believed to have been caused from a droplight that fell, sparked and ignited the gas from a fuel pump being changed in the garage.

The call of the fire at 505 E. Main St. came to the Albert Lea Fire Department at about 2:15 p.m.

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Bob Hage, one of Hanson Tire’s mechanics, said after the gas ignited, he saw flames rise all the way up to the ceiling. A few of the mechanics quickly grabbed fire extinguishers to try to put out the blaze, but that wasn’t enough, Hage said. That’s when they ran out of the building.

Part-owner Kelvin Rehnelt, who was also in the service area at the time the gas ignited, said when the droplight hit the ground, he heard it pop.

It was only a matter of probably 25 or 30 seconds before all of the employees were out of the building, Rehnelt said.

Authorities cleared the area in case any tanks would explode, and many workers in nearby businesses were also asked to evacuate their places of work.

These workers, along with the mechanics and other spectators looked on as the firefighters worked.

Yolanda Garza, a hair stylist at Dinah’s Style, said she and the other employees were working on clients when an officer came in and said they had to leave.

At first, some of the employees at Dinah’s Style even thought their own business was on fire, Garza said. When they came out, they saw black smoke.

Schallock said the fire department was able to get inside the building and put out the fire quickly. The firefighters’ main concern was to keep the blaze out of the main part of the building.

“If we hadn’t gotten here when we did it would have been disastrous,” he said, noting what the situation might have been like had any of the tires in the back shop area caught fire.

While waiting to get back into their business, a few Dinah’s Style employees could be seen cutting hair of clients sitting on buckets near the curb.

Authorities restricted traffic on Main Street and Bridge Avenue for a time, as a tall gray plume could be seen from across Fountain Lake, from Broadway Ridge and from the Main Street bridge crossing the Union Pacific railroad tracks.

Dan Dorman, part-owner of the business, said he was in a meeting with the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency at the time the fire started.

He received a call from the store, from Rehnelt and another from his wife. That’s when he got a bad feeling that something had happened.

“The first thing I thought was, ‘Is everyone OK?’” Dorman said.

In the coming days the business’s owners will survey the extent of the damage and find out how quickly they can operate, he said.

Rehnelt said Tuesday evening the front office received relatively minor smoke damage. The majority of the equipment in the service stalls, along with three vehicles that were being worked on at the time of the blaze are a total loss.

He said structurally, however, the building is still sound. There appears to be no damage to the steel beams in the ceiling or the concrete block walls, and the floor is in good condition, though dirty, he added.

The back shop area, which has another four service bays, has essentially no damage, he said. Though some adjustments will have to be made, the plan is to be open for business in those bays.

“I instructed our employees to show up at the normal time tomorrow,” Rehnelt said Tuesday evening. “If we’re not cleaning, we’ll be working on cars.”

He said he was pleased with how quickly the fire department responded and for the professionalism they displayed.

“Thanks to all the businesses who extended their offerings of hope,” he said. “As a business, we really appreciate that.”

Volunteers with the Freeborn County American Red Cross arrived at the scene around 3:15 p.m.

Imogene Opdahl, director of the local Red Cross, said they heard about the fire on the radio, and then got a call shortly after asking for volunteers’ assistance.

“Whenever they call, we respond,” Opdahl said.

“Whether it’s to feed the firemen or to respond to a house fire.”

The volunteers brought water, sandwiches, cookies and bananas for the firefighters.

By 3:30 p.m. the firefighters were rolling up hoses.

Hanson Tire is owned three ways between Junior and Wanda Dorman, Dan and Mary Jo Dorman, and Kelvin and Amy Rehnelt.