Terry Hand watched from the road Saturday morning as orange flames danced through his Chico Auto Parts store.
“A lot of memories and hard work,” Hand said. “I’ve raised four girls out of there.”
Fire destroyed the shop in the 600 block of Weatherford Street that had been in the Hand family since 1982.
“It’ll be 30 years in September,” Hand said. “We bought it in 1982, my folks and me.”
Nearly 40 firefighters from seven departments battled the blaze from dawn until late in the afternoon. Firefighters also returned when the fire rekindled throughout the weekend.
Pam Hartley, who has worked at the shop for the past 10 years, came across the fire shortly after 6 on her way to the shop.
“I drove up, and this [east] side was in flames,” said Hartley, who works as a state inspector at the shop.
“Lots of memories gone up in flames for all of us. Terry has a lot of good employees. He’s a good person. You can’t ask for a better boss,” she said,
When Chico firefighters arrived, flames were already raging in the bays on the south side of the building.
“It wasn’t through the roof yet,” said Chico Fire Chief Pancho Redwine. “The whole shop bay was gone by the time we got here.”
Officials were unsure what ignited the fire, but suggested it started in the shop. Initially, Hand said it may have been an electrical fire in one of the four vehicles in the bay.
“A vehicle started on fire, and it got in the roof and started running,” he said.
Monday, Hand said it may have been started by a forklift in the shop.
“I’m sure that it was a forklift that set it off,” he said. “We were scheduled to work on it Saturday morning.”
Firefighters had to take a defensive approach initially as flames gutted the metal building. A hole had to be cut in a wall on the south side to vent the flames.
Thick clouds of black smoke filled the sky as dancing orange flames were visible through the front window of the building. After the fire destroyed the inside, the sign on the front of the building collapsed with a thundering thud shortly before 8:30.
Firefighters applied gallons of water and foam to the flames from outside before they were eventually able to get inside the building to gain control of the blaze.
The summer heat added to the strain on the firefighters battling the flames. Firefighters rotated 10 and 10 on the fire with no one staying involved more than 15 minutes.
“Anything this big and hot, we need as much manpower as we can get,” Redwine said. “You can’t stay in there long.”
One firefighter was treated for dehydration.
Firefighters from Chico, Alvord, Bridgeport, Crafton, Paradise, Sunset and Sand Flat worked on the blaze. Assistance with getting water to the scene was provided by a pair of Chico businesses – Got To Go Solutions and Coffman Tanks Trucks.
Hand said between the loss of the building, inventory, equipment and the four vehicles of customers that damages will total near $2 million.
“It was a total loss,” he said Monday. “Most of the stuff was not even recognizable.”
Hand doesn’t expect to be out of business long.
“Nobody got hurt,” Hand said. “We’ll look at it Monday, pull our boots up and go again.”
Monday, he and his employees were operating out of the old Chico City Hall at 113 W. Decatur St. The city moved its offices to a new location in early July.
He said they are looking for options for a permanent location.
“It’s a temporary setback, but we’ll move forward,” Hand said.
His tow trucks were in another building and were untouched by the fire.
Since Saturday’s fire, many customers and Chico residents have reached out to Hand.
“I’ve had hundreds of calls and texts,” Hand said. “It’s overwhelming the support. That’s the good thing about living in small town America.”