Thursday did not end like any other business day for staff at the KAL Tire location in Hawkesbury.

Fire broke out at the shop, located on Highway 34 at Highway 17, at approximately 5 p.m.

Flames quickly engulfed the entire building and thick, black smoke from burning tires rose into the sky which could be seen a considerable distance away.

Fire departments from Hawkesbury, L’Orignal, Vankleek Hill, East Hawkesbury, and Alfred-Plantagenet responded to the call.  The Ontario Provincial Police closed Highway 34/McGill Street in the area, along with Highway 17.  Police officers also told bystanders to leave the area.

While firefighters battled the blaze with hoses, the hot, black smoke carried the moisture into the sky, and there were brief showers of black raindrops in the vicinity.

Victoria and Shane Hollinrake were driving south on McGill Street/Highway 34 with their two-year-old twins from their home in Hawkesbury.  The were on their way to the Walmart store on Highway 17 soon after the fire started.

“We were stuck in traffic. I was panicking,” said Victoria, who added that the heat from the fire was intense.

“I could feel it with the windows closed,” she said.

The fire unfortunately stirred up anxiety from a past experience for Victoria.  She said that when she was two years old, she nearly died in a fire in Hawkesbury.

She is pleased the fire did not spread and congratulated firefighters for their hard work at getting the situation under control.

“We’ve got good firefighters,” she said.

Victoria Hollinrake captured the KAL Tire fire up close on video while she and her husband were driving by.  At that time, the fire was far from being under control, roads had not been closed, and not all firefighters had yet arrived at the scene.  The video can be viewed here:

KAL Tire Manager Christian Latreille said 15 to 17 people normally work at the shop, and everyone got out of the building safely.  He said most of the customers’ vehicles that were in the shop were also saved.

Latreille would not offer any comments about the possible cause of the fire but said, “It’s a tire fire, so it’s a total loss.”

Vankleek Hill Fire Chief Michel Martin said the cause of the fire is under investigation by the Ontario Fire Marshall and the OPP but confirmed the fire was not suspicious.  Damage is estimated at about $1 million but possibly more, depending upon the amount of inventory or vehicles that were inside the building.

Martin said firefighters wore proper breathing masks to protect themselves from the toxic smoke.

The natural gas service to the tire shop was not immediately shut off after the fire started.  It burned much like a large flare during the evening.  Martin said the gas posed no hazard to firefighters and the effort to extinguish the fire.  He said the gas was not a problem as long as it was burning.

“There was no danger,” Martin said.

Water used to fight the fire mixed with chemicals from burning tires.  To prevent it from running into Hawkesbury Creek, which flows behind the KAL Tire property, firefighters installed sandbags to contain the runoff.

According to Martin, the runoff water is not considered a spill, but Ministry of the Environment, Conservation, and Parks staff were at the scene on Thursday evening to monitor the situation.

Photo: James Morgan

Photo: James Morgan