Four businesses destroyed in early morning fire

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Team coverageSeveral West Valley City business owners are devastated this afternoon after a huge fire destroyed several of their shops.

The fire started at 2:30 this morning while an employee was working on a car at Ryan's Performance Plus at 4669 W. 3500 South. He tried to put the fire out with an extinguisher, but it quickly got out of control and reached other nearby businesses.

Most of the businesses are family-run shops, and the workers' livelihoods rely on being able to work. So when the owners and their families showed up this morning to see the damage, many of them said it was devastating.

Michael Hale, with Hunter Machine, an auto machine shop, said, "He's probably lost and doesn't know what he's going to do or where to go from here."

After 23 years of business, the engine shop that Michael Hale's father built is gone. Other businesses affected include Proline Automotive, Custom Taxidermy and Ryan's Performance Plus.

Also destroyed in the fire was a race car John Szwarc built by hand. He said, "It took me two years to build the car. It's a blown alcohol dragster. I am having a really hard time explaining how I feel right now."

Several homes south of the burning building were evacuated. One neighbor who lives nearly three blocks says he heard an explosion. "I was just lying in my room and I heard a big explosion, and so I walked outside to see what it was, and I looked to the north of me and saw a ton of smoke," Nathan Wittke said.

Firefighters say that explosion was a compressed gas cylinder inside Ryan's Performance Plus. They say the force of the explosion blew a hole through the building's wall. That hole allowed the fire to consume the three other businesses.

For Proline Automotive, this is the second fire to destroy their shop in one year. Hale says his father's shop was untouched during the previous fire, but it was a reminder to stay up on fire code. Now he says he's not sure how his family business and the three others will recover.

"It's our family's, basically, our only source of income for our family, and we have some friends that work for us. It's a small company with a few employees and stuff, but as an employer, we're responsible for their livelihood as well," Hale said.

The fire was difficult to fight. Stan Varney, deputy fire chief of the West Valley City Fire Department, said, "It's difficult because of where it's located. It's back where we can't get our big trucks in there, for one. The other is that the weather conditions make it real difficult."

The cold made it hard for firefighters to fight the flames because the water was freezing.

Investigators say there is over a million dollars worth in damage. Firefighters say because the roof collapsed and there is a lot of structural damage, the building will likely need to be torn down.

Some nearby homes threatened by the fire were evacuated, but residents have been allowed to return. Residents of a nearby assisted living home voluntarily evacuated. They have returned as well.



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