Roof collapses as fire tears through Winnipeg auto shop

A blaze ripped through a Winnipeg auto shop overnight, destroying one of four buildings.

Crews fought flames, heavy smoke through night

A blaze ripped through a Winnipeg auto shop overnight, destroying one of four buildings. 2:01

A blaze ripped through a Winnipeg auto shop overnight, destroying one of four buildings.

The fire started just after 10 p.m. Monday at J Max Auto Service, in the 600 block of Lorette Avenue, off Pembina Highway.

Officials said many dangerous chemicals are inside J Max Auto Service, including paint and lacquer, vehicles with fuel tanks and oxygen cylinders for welding. (CBC)
Flames burn through J Max Auto Service overnight. (Courtesy Dave Girling)
Thick smoke pours into the sky from the fire at J Max Auto Service. (Courtesy Dave Girling)
J Max owner Joel Semchuk said flames were reaching six metres high when he arrived shortly after the alarms went off.

"There was fire shooting out of the building and there was firefighters up on the cranes spraying water," he said, adding he is grateful for the work of the firefighters.

"They do a very, very difficult job. I can't imagine how hard it would be to do that job."

At least 60 firefighters were involved through the night as crews fought flames and heavy smoke. The roof collapsed at one point, making it difficult to reach hot spots, according to a fire official.

Semchuk believes the fire started on the roof of a building that serves as the office and production facility for the autobody shop. There were about 25 cars inside, including both courtesy and customer cars, he said.

Officials said many dangerous chemicals were inside the business's other buildings — the body shop, paint shop and mechanical shop — including paint and lacquer, as well as oxygen cylinders for welding.

Firefighters worked to protect those buildings from the flames, Semchuk said.

"I'm very grateful for that," he said, adding that part of the business will continue but the production facility will need to be torn down and rebuilt "in a hurry."

This is something I never, ever imagined.- Joel Semchuk

Semchuk said the business has been going for 30 years and many employees are like family because they've been there so long.

"I'm working very hard to look after all of them and their families and make sure that we are able to keep functioning," he said. "We do have three other buildings so … we'll be able to look after the customers and employees and keep this business going.

"This is something I never, ever imagined."

Roofing crews were working on the building for the past two weeks and were tarring the office on Monday, Semchuk said.

"Possibly they left something running on the roof, but I'm not sure, though. We still have to find out," he said.

Fire crews were still pouring water into the building Tuesday morning, in what they call a "drown out," and expected to remain on the scene for a while.

The northbound curb lane of Pembina at Lorette, which had been blocked by police, was open but there was deep water left behind for the morning commute.
A blaze that ripped through a Winnipeg auto shop last night has customers worried. Keane Kokolsky's car was at J Max during the fire, but he doesn't know if it was destroyed or not. 1:20

Customer doesn't know if vehicle destroyed in fire

Keane Kokolsky's car was at J Max during the fire. He said he heard it was in the building, but he doesn't know if it was destroyed or not.

"My brother called me and said, 'You might have to make another claim on your vehicle. J Max is on fire.' So I initially thought to myself, 'Oh my God. What's going on?'" said Kokolsky. "I just bought my car last year. I pay as a student, paying biweekly."

Kokolsky said he might not know whether his car was totalled until later this week, when the business owners get access to the building.

"I'm in complete shock right now. I never thought this would happen at a company like this. I've always brought my vehicle to these guys and referred them to others," he said. "It just happens, I guess."


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