Owner Freddie Dill was awakened by his phone ringing around 6 a.m. Friday, alerting him to an enormous fire burning his shop at 128-10 Merrick Blvd. Although firefighters spent a long morning extinguishing the blaze, it gutted the shop and destroyed all of his inventory.
Flames leapt into the early morning sky and the fire was visible from blocks away as helicopters buzzed overhead.
Judie Lea, who lives across the street from the shop, found her living room was unusually hot around 7:30 a.m. but knew that the heat was not on.
"I looked out the window and I saw the fire. Some of the flames were higher than the telephone poles," Lea said.
Boksoo Hur, owner of Springfield Diner, made a 911 call around 6:15 a.m. From the diner, directly across from the tire shop on Merrick Boulevard, Hur's co-worker had seen smoke emerging from the back of the tire shop and alerted him.
Firefighters went out on the first call at 6:17 a.m., followed by a second call at 6:29 a.m. and a third at 6:42 a.m., according to the Fire Department. By the third call, 138 firefighters had reached the scene and the fire was reported under control at 8:47 a.m.
The blaze destroyed the one-story, 125-by-75-foot brick building. The most extensive visible damage was to the back wall and to the roof, which had collapsed.
No one from the shop was hurt. Two firefighters sustained minor injuries, FDNY Battalion Chief James Murray said.
Murray, called in from Manhattan, said a big tire fire was especially tough to beat. "You won't do much by just pouring water on the whole thing," he said. "Tires have to be put out one by one, so that nothing reignites."
Dill employed about 10 people at the shop, which offered adjustments, alignments, and serviced brakes in addition to its tire sales. Five tire shop employees had worked there the night before the fire and several construction workers, including Carlos Vargas, who had been pouring a new cement floor at the shop.
"I was one of the last people to leave last night. I have no idea how this started," he said Friday.
The cause remained under investigation this week, fire officials said.
Dill, originally from Jamaica, has owned Poor Freddie's Tire Shop for 25 years, 18 of them spent at the Merrick Boulevard site. Local residents and employees at surrounding businesses described Dill as a friendly and reputable neighbor.
At the Springfield Diner, Nan Hur said Dill's employees often came in to eat breakfast before work.
"We had a very good relationship with them," she said. "I feel terribly sorry for them."
The city Buildings Department planned to demolish what remains of the structure.
a somewhat dazed Dill, who was standing in the street in front of his charred tire shop, said he hoped to rebuild the business as soon as possible and in the meantime to open a temporary store in the area.
"It was an accidental fire," said Dill. "No one knows what happened or how it happened."
©2000 Community News Group
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