Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Arson likely in auto dealership fire


A fire that destroyed several vehicles at a local auto dealership early Tuesday morning is being investigated as arson, authorities said.
Fire crews arrived at Milpas Motors, 735 N. Milpas St., at approximately 1:30 a.m. after receiving reports of explosions, City Fire Marshal Joe Poire said. By the time they reached the dealership, flames had fully engulfed three cars.

“They got a handle on it pretty quickly,” Poire said. “It’s a pretty easy area to fight a fire.”
Once the flames had been doused, fire investigators began combing the scene, a process that lasted until early Tuesday afternoon. Although the initial examination is complete, Poire said the joint investigation between the fire and police departments is still in its infancy.
“There isn’t a lot that we know at this point,” he said. “The details of the scene are things that we just can’t share.”
Milpas Motors representatives said the blaze completely destroyed three cars and damaged two others. Angela Ontiveros, an office administrator at the dealership, said she has no idea who might have started the fire.
“We have a great reputation in this city and I can’t even imagine somebody who would want to do this to us,” she said. “…We don’t have anyone who hates Milpas Motors or who we’ve sold a bad car.”
Ontiveros said witnesses reported hearing a window being smashed, an alarm sounding, and then an explosion in quick succession. Dave Finney, a local resident who lives in the 1200 block of De la Guerra Street said he had been out on his deck smoking a cigarette when he heard a series of pops.
“Not like explosions, but it was a definite pop,” Finney said. “It sounded almost like a car impact, like a wreck. Then I noticed all the smoke starting to come up.”
By the time he made his way down to the scene, at the corner of Milpas and De la Guerra streets, several firefighters had already started hosing down the burning vehicles.
“My first thought when I got down here was … somebody must have run a light or crashed a vehicle or something,” Finney said. “I was really surprised when there was no accident.”
Police and fire officials said due to the ongoing nature of the investigation, they couldn’t release any details other than that they are continuing to gather information. Ontiveros said authorities are seriously investigating at least one suspect.
“We just know it was arson,” she said. “There’s no possible way that it happened accidentally.”
Among the damaged vehicles is a 1957 Volkswagen Beetle, a car Ontiveros described as “not a rare car, but a prize piece — something that somebody worked really hard on.” Flames also caused the gas tank of a 2001 Audi TT to explode, she said, completely destroying the vehicle.
A nearby blue 1970 Chevy Corvette, which Ontiveros said was her favorite car on the lot, caught fire and exploded as well. Two BMWs sustained paint damage from the heat of the explosions and flames.
Fire officials have yet to determine a cost estimate of the damage. Ontiveros said the dealership has full insurance coverage and will remain open during the investigation and cleanup.
“We’re not going to let something like this stop us,” she said.
Since she arrived at the office at 8:30 a.m., she said the phone has been constantly ringing with calls from concerned residents and friends. Others have been stopping by to express their support, Ontiveros said, including mechanics and those from other dealerships.
“Everybody wants to find the person who did it,” she said.

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