Downtown Macon tire business burns

A fuel leak from a Chevy Blazer this morning caused a fire at Tires Plus, 852 Riverside Drive, Macon, causing substantial damage to the business.

Workers were able to exit the building and no injuries were reported.

Capt. Tom Musselwhite of the Macon-Bibb Fire Department said the blaze began at about 10:40 a.m. when a fuel leak from the Blazer made contact with a work light. The light bulb busted, Musselwhite said, and because the fuel from the truck had drained onto the floor, the fire spread quickly.

Musselwhite said because of the tires and the flammable liquids at the business, the fire could have gotten out of control quickly.

"It was under control very quickly, even with the amount of tires here," Musselwhite said. "Our greatest fear in this type of fire is the acetylene tanks along with the fuel in the cars. It took about 30 minutes to control it using foam on the tires."

Musselwhite said it took about an hour to extinguish the fire completely. None of the businesses surrounding Tires Plus were damaged.

People gathered around a police-set perimeter to watch firefighters battle the fire that sent huge plumes of thick black smoke high into the downtown Macon skyline.

Macon-Bibb County EMA director Johnny Wingers said officials notified The Medical Center of Central Georgia when the smoke drifted toward the hospital.

Authorities are also concerned about the level of petroleum in the water streaming down the curb along Riverside Drive. The fire shut down Riverside Drive from Spring Street to First Street for more than an hour.

Because of the nature of the thick smoke and the seriousness of the fire, crews paused every 30 minutes to check to make sure all firefighters were accounted for, Marvin Riggins, assistant chief of the Macon-Bibb County Fire Department said.

A Georgia Power crew cut off electricity to the building and surrounding businesses including the Krystal at the corner of Spring Street and Riverside Drive.

The neighboring Waffle House did not lose power and customers continued to dine while watching the crews trying to fight the ferocious flames. Waffle House server Eshunda Robinson said the smoke started slowly coming out of the windows but quickly got out of hand.

"It just started poofing up in black smoke and then the flames started coming out of the windows - big, thick flames." Robinson said. "They couldn't even put it out at first."

Musselwhite said the building was in imminent danger of collapse and a wide area surrounding it would be cordoned off. In addition to the Blazer, three other cars that were being repaired at the time were damaged beyond repair because of the fire.

Mark Tyszka, the district manager for Tires Plus, said the company's insurance would work with the car owners about getting replacement vehicles. "We'll make it right," he said.

He said the most important thing was that no one was injured.

"The company's stance is that the safety of the employees and the customers is our top priority," he said. "We're relieved no one was injured. It's an unfortunate situation."

Tyszka said the staff at the business performed as they were trained to in case of a fire.

He said it was too soon to know if the company would rebuild the business on that site. Tyszka said there were nine or 10 employees who worked at the site, and all would be moved to other Tires Plus locations in the area.