Large fire heavily damages Business Loop 70 strip mall, closes roads

Sunday, April 1, 2012 | 10:53 a.m. CDT; updated 3:58 p.m. CDT, Sunday, April 1, 2012
A fire burns at O'Reilly Auto Parts on Sunday. The fire spread throughout the Garth Avenue and Business Loop 70 West strip mall, damaging four other businesses. At the time this photo was taken Sunday morning, there were no reports of injuries.

COLUMBIA — A multiple-alarm fire occurred at the O'Reilly Auto Parts store at 106 Business Loop 70 W.

Columbia Fire Department Fire Marshal Steven Sapp said the first call came in at 4:45 Sunday morning. A second alarm followed 15 minutes later. At the time of this report, the fire is still not under control.

A plume of dark smoke that smelled like burning rubber hung over the mall and stretched across Business Loop 70 West. Sapp said the materials burning inside the auto parts store included petroleum, cardboard and plastic.

Water from the mall's flooded parking lot ran down Garth Avenue as 11 units and 35 staff members from the Fire Department tried to knock down the fire. The building has partially collapsed, Sapp said, and several businesses have heavy damage.

The strip mall at Garth Avenue and Business Loop 70 West includes O'Reilly Auto Parts, Sami's Beauty Supply, Adam's Barber Shop, Hong Kong Restaurant and Dollar General. All businesses were closed when the fire began and there have been no injuries, Sapp said.

Sapp said the last "multiple alarm" fire, where a second alarm is called in and more units respond, was about three years ago.

"It's been a tough fire," he said.

Standing by watching the blaze were Kevin Schnepf, the manager of the mall's O'Reilly Auto Parts, and Chris Meade, district manager for all the O'Reilly stores in the area. They had been at the scene since about 6 a.m., along with other employees.

Word of the fire traveled to employees quickly, Schnepf said. The store was scheduled to open at 9 a.m.

"All of our team members will still be employed," Meade said. Some employees scheduled to work are now on duty at other locations, he said.

A new O'Reilly Auto Parts, set to replace the one on fire, was scheduled to be opened in about 30 days. It could be sooner now, Meade said. The strip mall was built about 50 t0 60 years ago, Sapp said, and was originally a grocery store.

Environmental specialists from the city's Public Works Department were contacted to assess possible damage to the stormwater system, Sapp said.

The cause of the fire is still unknown, he said.

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