A fire tore through a Big Pine Key auto repair building early Wednesday, destroying most of the structure and its contents. The fire was reported about 3 a.m. at 200 Palomino Horse Trail, said Monroe County Fire Rescue Chief Jim Callahan.
The building, at the corner of Paradise Lane behind the Big Pine Key Flea Market, was engulfed when firefighters from Big Pine, Cudjoe and Sugarloaf keys responded, Callahan said.
One caller told 911 dispatchers that flames were shooting well above the trees, and another described feeling heat from the blaze from 50 feet, said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Deputy Becky Herrin.
Contents inside Big Pine Paint Body repair shop and KM Auto Repair provided ample fuel for the fire, which included second-floor offices, Callahan said.
No one was inside the building. The fire was easily seen from most of Big Pine Key, he said.
"It was a late call-in," Callahan added, referring to the time between the fire starting and the call to dispatchers. "By the time we got there, it was already through the roof. They could see it leaving the Big Pine fire station."
Arriving crews worked to turn off the electricity to the building, but it took longer than the chief would have liked, he said.
"It took a while to get the building de-energized, and thank God no firefighters were electrocuted," Callahan said.
Firefighters had extinguished the blaze by 4 a.m., but it was a total loss for the businesses and property owner, he said.
Monroe County property records indicate Carl and Terry Reid own the property, but they could not be reached for comment. Monroe County Fire Marshal Timmy Leonard was just starting his dig through the charred shell Wednesday morning and the cause remained under investigation into the evening, he said. A state fire marshal from Miami was headed to Big Pine Key as well, Leonard said.
There was no significant damage to other buildings, he said.
"These businesses were doing well," Callahan said. "It's a shame. Overall, it was a terrible fire, but operationally it went well for the crews."