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Fire destroys third-generation McMinn Co. family shop | News

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Fire destroys third-generation McMinn Co. family shop
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A McMinn County family is in shock following an early morning fire Sunday that destroyed their third-generation family shop.

With a smoky scene around him, Andy Ward surveyed what was left of his uncle's shop Sunday afternoon.

"It's just a hard sight to get used to seeing after, you know, seeing it and it being there all your life," Ward said. "And then, you know, it's just up and gone."

Ward, president of the Union Grove Volunteer Fire Department, got the call shortly after 6 a.m. Sunday.

"Got up and went to the door and looked," Ward said, "and I saw the fire."

Ward lives next door to his uncle's home and shop. The only structure closer to his uncle's place is-- the Union Grove Volunteer Fire Department, of which Ward's uncle, Alvin Shoemaker, is chief.

That proximity, however, couldn't save the building.

"(By) the time we got the hose off and, you know, started putting water on it," Ward recounted, "it was just nearly fully engulfed by then. It just went so fast."

He said the fire started in a friend's old Holiday Rambler RV, which had been sitting in front of the shop for about three years.

"There was no electricity to it. No batteries on it. No source of fuel in it," Ward said. "It'd sit there three years and not ever decided to burn, so they're investigating, trying to find out what they can."

The fire spread from the RV to the shop's wooden eaves.

Investigators are looking into arson as a possible cause, Ward said, in this fire that injured nobody but destroyed a lot of memories.

The shop used to be Shoemaker's towing and wrecking business. Shoemaker in now retired, but he and Ward have been using the space in recent years to restore classic cars, four of which burned Sunday.

Four other cars, however, survived because Ward and his sister ran into a burning shed to save them.

"The flames were over our heads, trying to get this out," Ward said, running his hands along a 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air. "The paint's blistered along the fenders here...and it was hot enough to crack this glass right here. That's how close the fire was to it."

The other cars they saved were a '64 Mustang, '36 Ford and '97 Mustang.

"Me and my uncle...put a lot of them together, you know, just us," Ward said. "(We) did a lot of work on them together, so...they're just kind of special."

Cars, in fact, were why Shoemaker wasn't home when the fire broke out.

"He was at the World of Wheels car show in Chattanooga, showing another one of our cars down there, and he hurried home." Ward said. "He was in shock. I mean, it was hard for him to see, but he was glad that we were able to get out what we could get out so we didn't lose everything in it."

Ward estimates the damage at somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000. That includes the four hot rod cars inside the shop, plus a Ford Ranger and wrecker that were sitting outside the building.

"After they get done investigating and everything, we try to get things cleaned up, why, I hope we're going to be able to build another shop back and continue the work on our hot rods and stuff," Ward said.


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