An Americus tractor dealership caught on fire Wednesday night, and is left with roughly three Million dollars in damage. Sumter County firefighters responded to the call at Aimtrac Tractor Dealership at 230 South Highway 19 a little after midnight.
They were aided by two other fire departments, and were able to extinguish the flames in under two hours, now they're searching for answers.
Sumter County Fire Chief John Ekaitis says intense heat and roaring flames created massive damage to the business. The Georgia's Insurance Commissioner's office says arson hasn't been ruled out, but investigators say they may have found the cause. The shop filled with shiny, new tractors ready to be sold is now filled with melted plastic and rubble.
"We found four tractors on fire. We also found some small spot fires within the structure. It took us about an hour and a half to actually control the fire. We had 37 firefighters from Sumter County on the scene," said Chief Ekaitis.
Sumter County firefighters fought the blaze along with firefighters from Webster County and Americus. Chief Ekaitis says scorching temperatures delayed attempts to extinguish the flames.
"The heat and smoke was unbearable. The firefighters stayed in there for about fifteen minutes, and we backed them up because it looked like it could be a partial roof collapse," said Ekaitis. Ekaitis says firefighters forced entry into other doors to create proper ventilation, which made it easier to put out the flames. He says the fire could have been sparked because of a faulty electrical system. "You know, we're waiting on some more results from the Georgia State Fire Marshall's Office, and are anxious to meet with the insurance investigator also."
Investigators say the flames moved into the roof insulation, and intensified. This pile of ashes doesn't at all resemble the tractor it used to be. In fact, you can still smell the burned rubber just standing right beside it. But the chief says the dealership could have suffered a lot more damage.
"It could have been a lot worse from all the combustible materials that was in there. You know, with all the hydraulic fluids, kerosene, propane tanks on fork lifts, it could have been a lot worse, and thank goodness it wasn't."
He says he's not sure what kept the flames away from the flammable materials, but says he's thankful no one was hurt. The Georgia Insurance Commissioner's office says five tractors were destroyed, each costing about $200,000. Ekaitis says he'll meet with Aimtrack's insurance officer tomorrow morning after further investigation.
The Sumter County Chief says no foul play is suspected in the fire, but the Georgia Insurance Commissioner's office is working to officially rule out arson. Anyone with information that could help investigators is asked to call the Arson Control Hotline at 1-800-282-5084.