Fire burns cars at Havre salvage yard
The Havre Fire Department's new truck was put to use this morning as fire crews put out a vehicle fire at M&M Auto Parts Salvage yard.
The blaze started shortly after 9 a.m. and quickly spread to three salvage vehicles on the lot. The Fire Department responded with two firetrucks and had the fire under control within minutes.
No one was injured in the blaze.
One firetruck was originally dispatched to the fire, and another arrived just minutes later. The fire broke out on the east end of the property in a field of salvage vehicles. The salvage yard is north of the railroad tracks on the west end of town.
Salvage yard owner Mike Wojtowick used a bulldozer to move the burning cars into a clearing so the fire crew could attack the flames with a hose. Acrid smoke poured from the three badly charred vehicles, causing a cloud of thick black smoke to rise above the salvage yard. The smoke was visible from downtown Havre, accompanied by the smell of burning metal.
The fire was man-made, Havre Fire Chief Dave Sheppard said this morning as he surveyed the fire.
"It appears they were attempting to cut torque converters off a vehicle with a cutting torch and plastics in the interior started on fire," Sheppard said, adding that the fuel tanks had been removed from the vehicle.
Firefighters originally believed they were responding to a grass fire, Sheppard said. The Fire Department received a 911 call at 9:19 a.m. reporting a grass fire north of the railroad tracks, he said.
Fire crews responded with the department's newest truck, a four-wheel drive pumper that is specially outfitted for grass fires. The truck was purchased by the city with the help of a $162,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency grant.
Once the truck left the station, it didn't take long for firefighters to realize that it was a vehicle fire, engineer Mel Paulson said.
"As soon as we left, we could tell from the black smoke that it wasn't grass burning," he said.
Paulson controlled the flow of water to a hose that was operated by firefighter Sean Peck. The two-man crew called in another truck to assist. The fire was under control when the second truck arrived about 9:40 a.m.
Both water and foam retardant were used to put out the fires. Fire crews cleared the scene at 10:15 a.m.
Wojtowick has operated M&M Salvage with his wife, Marilyn, for 25 years. He could not be reached for comment today.
Today's fire occurred halfway through National Fire Prevention Week, an annual event dedicated to fire safety. The Havre Fire Department is sponsoring an open house from 1 to 7 p.m. through Saturday, and hosting daily drawings for smoke detectors and children's safety helmets.