PORT TOWNSEND — An auto repair and sales shop in Port Townsend went up in flames Saturday after someone lit a cigarette in a room filled with gasoline vapors, officials said.
When firefighters arrived to the fully-engulfed Custom Auto Craft and Sales at 2553 Cape George Road they took a defensive tact and focused on protecting nearby structures and vehicles, said East Jefferson Fire-Rescue spokesperson Bill Beezley.
“The building was intact because it was a metal building, but it was burning pretty hot inside and smoke was billowing out of it,” he said.
Firefighters were called out to the fire at 5:16 p.m.
Once they arrived it took about half an hour to contain the blaze as firefighters were limited by a lack of water.
Beezley said that because there were no nearby fire hydrants, firefighters used water tenders from East Jefferson Fire-Rescue, Jefferson County Fire District No. 5 and Port Ludlow Fire &Rescue.
He estimated that it took up to 6,000 gallons of water to put the fire out.
As they fought the fire, there was concern of other flammable gasses because it was an automotive repair shop. Beezley said there was propane, gas and other flammable liquids in the building.
Firefighters also needed to be careful as they waited for Jefferson Public Utility District workers to disconnect power to lines that had come down in the fire.
“You don’t want to get a fire hose on a live electrical line,” he said.
Inside the building was at least one truck and another vehicle, Beezley said. The business owner told firefighters he had machinery worth $25,000 to $30,000 in the shop and that he had no insurance.
The building owner told firefighters the building was about 35 years old and uninsured.
A man working in the building at the time, a private contractor for the business, told firefighters he had removed a fuel pump from a vehicle, spilling gasoline in the process.
He opened a door on the side of the building to ventilate it, but miscalculated the amount of gas fumes that were left in the building, Beezley said.
“The building was full of gasoline fumes and he thought he ventilated it,” he said.
The fumes lit as the man used a lighter to light his cigarette and flames spread rapidly throughout the building. He attempted to call 9-1-1, but lost his cellphone while he escaped the building and ran down the road to use a neighbor’s phone to call for help.
He suffered burns to his left hand.
Beezley said both the business owner and building owner lacked insurance and underscored the need for people to have insurance on their buildings.
“There’s a need for insurance,” he said. “You can be one accidental fire away from financial disaster.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].