VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Firefighters believe careless smoking may have caused a fire Thursday afternoon at a car dealership in Virginia Beach.
John Stakes was in the My Car used car dealership in the 900 block S. Military Highway when the fire broke out around 12:25 p.m.
“He told me to get out, and I see the smoke, and I was running as fast as I could,” Stakes said. “The walls were falling down, smoke was going crazy. I thought we were going to burn up there for a minute. Everyone was running out of there.”
Michael Hibben was yelling for people to get out.
“We just came outside, looked around the corner, I saw a small fire, it went up quick, I heard some popping, we got out of the building and called 911.”
Chesapeake Fire’s Engine 3 was the first to arrive at the scene, with Engine 10 from the Virginia Beach Fire Department arriving shortly after.
“I was selling a young lady a car, and then everyone started yelling ‘get out,’ ‘get out,’ ‘get out,’ there’s smoke,” said Julio Heredia.
Crews were able to extinguish the fire, which eyewitnesses say started around a pile of tires outside the My Car building before racing up the side of the building, within 30 minutes.
It was a “remarkable” outcome, according to officials, who noted Chesapeake and Virginia Beach’s “automatic aid” partnership was critical for the quick response.
The joint dispatching system alerts the closest fire crew, regardless of the municipality, in order to cut down on response time. Officials say the fire could’ve been much worse without the aid system.
The big question: how did the fire start?
There’s no official cause, but officials report careless discarding of cigarette butts has not been ruled out.
Officials say a large pile of cigarette butts was found in the area where the tires were burning.