Fire destroys business in historic Chowchilla building

CHOWCHILLA, Calif. (KFSN) -- The sound of explosions and breaking glass accompanied the sight of bright orange flames and swirling smoke engulfing the CarQuest Auto Parts shop in Chowchilla.

Firefighters from the City, Madera County, and the nearby Central California Women's Facility rushed to the scene around 3 a.m. Wednesday and found the burning building secured with no one inside.

"We have a 10,000 square foot commercial building," says Chowchilla Fire Department Bat. Chief Fred Gaumnitz. "There are several rooms, and it seemed to have started in the interior in one of the rooms."

Crews had to shut down Robertson Boulevard as they worked to contain the blaze. They say the property was full of oil, gasoline, and ag supplies that created a huge fuel load.

The building is now a total loss, with damages estimated at more than $1 million. Family members say the auto parts shop was owned for more than 30 years by Charles Green and that he is known for his many contributions to the community. Green has received an outpouring of support from local residents in the wake of the fire. We also spoke with the stepson of one of the McDonell brothers who own the building itself.

"It just chokes me up because I know what it meant to the family and more so as sentimental value," says Jed Barnes.

The building also has historical value. It opened nearly 80 years ago on a day that will live in infamy.

"Grand opening day on it was December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor," says Chowchilla Historical Society V.P. Dale Thomas.

Thomas says over the years, the business has specialized in auto parts and repairs and has recently shifted to offer more agriculture supplies as well. He says it's a devastating loss to the customers, owners, and city as a whole.

"Anytime you lose a historically significant structure to the community, it's heartbreaking," Thomas said.

Investigators are still working to figure out how this fire stated, but they say at this point it does not appear suspicious.
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