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The big thaw: Ice complicates ongoing fire investigation

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Investigators are starting to pick through ice and rubble to determine what caused a fire that destroyed a Franklin business building but won’t have any answers until today at the earliest.

Franklin Fire Department started an investigation at 191 Commerce Drive on Wednesday, but the investigation could take a day or more because of the amount of ice covering the burned property, fire department spokesman Brad Epperson said. The remains are no longer smoldering, but an engine and fire crew are staying at the location to make sure no one tampers with the site, Epperson said.

“Because that was such a large facility, it’s going to take a long time. And the amount of damage was so extensive that they’re going to have to get in there and crawl around, and there are still hazards with the ice,” he said.

Three businesses that occupied the building are now looking for new locations to get back up and running after the Monday blaze. Two of those shops, Miller Chemical Tech and D&H Cheer Co. Fierce Allstars, lost everything in the fire.

The third, Doug’s Franklin Auto Care Center, has some damage from when water and ice collapsed the roof over the repair shop, but almost all of the equipment and four customer cars are not damaged, owner Doug Wright said. Wright is now waiting for the fire department to complete its investigation so he can take his tools and vehicles out and continue working from his home until he finds a new location, he said.

All of the businesses are searching for new locations. Wright is trying to find a new garage space in Franklin and Miller Chemical Tech is already speaking to real estate agents to find a new office in the city, office manager Patti McCullough said.

The office, which is the company’s corporate headquarters, and everything inside it including computers, desks and files were destroyed, McCullough said. Three employees work in the Franklin office for the company that designs and manufactures chemicals used by other businesses, she said.

“We’re talking to a few Realtors locally and seeing what’s available and working as quickly as possible to make sure our customers don’t see a delay in deliveries. And everything is in a holding pattern, especially with the weather,” McCullough said.

Wright and another employee were in his business when the fire started around 11 a.m. They had come in early to get the shop warmed due to the subzero temperatures and were planning to open at noon. He wasn’t aware the building was on fire until firefighters came in and told them to evacuate, he said.

The fire looked like it started between the other two shops on the north end of the building, but he wasn’t sure which one or what might have caused it, he said. While the flames gutted the other two businesses, his repair center didn’t receive any fire damage. The roof did collapse over part of his shop, likely because the water firefighters were spraying was freezing nearly instantly, causing ice to weigh down the weakened roof, he said.

Firefighters didn’t allow him to start getting equipment out or pull customer cars out of the shop during the fire, but he was able to go back in Monday night and save an expensive new scanner he had recently bought, Wright said. Everything else has to stay until the fire department completes the investigation, although the fire didn’t start in his business, Wright said.

“We were trying to get cars out and they told us not to touch it. There’s actually four customer cars in there, but everything we were working on is on the south end of the building, and I still have a roof over it,” he said.

Fierce Allstars is currently selling T-shirts to raise funds to replace items lost in the fire and rebuild or reopen the studio in a new location. The studio did lose competition trophies and banners that were won by its competitive cheer teams and can’t be replaced.

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