CONYERS - A Monday morning fire that employees said could have been much worse spread quickly and destroyed part of John Miles Chevrolet in Conyers.
The fire began at about 10:30 a.m. in the service area of the car dealership. Within minutes, a column of black smoke rose from the building while flames tore through the structure's roof.
No one was injured and firefighters with the Rockdale County Fire Department had the fire under control after about an hour. Scott Street was closed to traffic for several hours afterward Tuesday as fire investigators sought to determine the cause of the fire.
John Miles Parts Manager Larry Kirchner said he was talking to someone who mentioned he smelled something burning. Kirchner turned, saw smoke pouring out of an air-conditioning vent in his office. He grabbed a fire extinguisher and ran upstairs to the parts storage area in an attempt to put out the fire.
"I went through one and got another
extinguisher, but by that time I couldn't get in," he said. "It was just too hot, and the room was totally engulfed in flames."
In the moments before the fire engines arrived, bystanders heard popping noises coming from the fire. Kirchner and other employees said the fire began in the parts storage area just above the service area's checkout counter.
Carly Gouch, a service adviser at the dealership, said the area had a lot of combustible items stored, including car batteries and propane tanks.
"I was in the service shop helping someone turn rotors. We saw A/C vents on fire and just left," she said. Gouch ran to the fire station up Scott Street while co-workers called 911.
RCFD Deputy Chief Mike Lee said firefighters were able to contain the fire and limit the most significant damage to the parts area. There was some smoke and ash in the service bays, but no apparent damage to the vehicles inside.
Also, none of the new cars in the sales lot were affected by the fire.
"There was no damage to any of the patrons' vehicles that we know about, and there was no damage to any of the new part on the showroom side," Lee said. "(The fire) was in the parts storage area."
Kim Miles, who owns and operates the dealership with her father, could only watch from Dogwood Drive as firefighters attacked the blaze. The longtime, local dealership was among those in May that learned it would remain open as General Motors announced it was cutting 1,100 dealerships from its dealer network.
On Monday, Miles was unsure when they would reopen, but was thankful everyone was able to escape the building without getting hurt.
"After doing the head count and calling the insurance company, we just have to assess what we have," she said. "I understand our computer room was damaged, and we have to get that running before we can do anything."
Jay Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.