A massive fire ripped through the Donnell Ford car dealership in Boardman overnight.
When the fire started around 4 a.m., it lit up Market Street. It could be seen from miles away, with flames 20 feet into the air.
“The fire was already through the roof in the showroom area, so that presents a challenge for us. A massive amount of fire,” said Boardman Fire Chief Mark Pitzer. “Our initial response was to get Elevated Master Streams in service to get an adequate amount of water on the fire.”
The showroom had a half-dozen new models on display, plus a classic automobile — a 1931 Ford Roadster.
“We showed up and the fire was through the showroom roof. This is definitely a bad one,” said Boardman Assistant Fire Chief Don Kloes. “So much fire involved initially. The cars inside the showroom area are gone. The whole front of the building is gone. We stopped the fire at the service department and saved that portion.”
Jessyca Hovis lives across the street from Donnell Ford. She said a loud noise startled her, then she saw an orange glow and yelled for her husband to wake up.
“I heard these popping sounds like a shotgun going off but it didn’t make sense, it wasn’t from the TV. I looked out the window and saw the fire trucks, and then I looked further and saw Donnell completely engulfed in flames. I was praying no one was inside.”
No one was inside the dealership at the time, except for an office cat named Shelby, which was rescued from the burning building.
Video shows the fire seemed to be more in the roof area. That gave firefighters their first clue — that a lightning strike could’ve started it.
The state fire marshal helped investigate on Friday and hopes to get surveillance camera footage from Donnell to see if it shows lightning. They’ve also asked the National Weather Service to come and take a look.
“At this time, it does not appear suspicious,” Pitzer said.
The owner of Donnell Ford, Dave Flynn, said they are going to continue to operate, utilizing their five other locations in the Valley. He said the bulk of the damage was to the showroom but the service area was saved.
Donnell was busy on Friday, trying to get electricity restored to the building so work could continue in the service department and other areas of the dealership.
Roofers were also on the building.
There was some damage behind the showroom in a second-floor office area.
No new or used cars outside appeared to have any damage.
“We haven’t had a large fire like this in quite some time in Boardman Township but this would rank to one of the top fires in our times,” Pitzer said.
The Red Cross stopped by with energy bars and drinks after helping families displaced by an apartment fire in the township.
“We were seeing the Boardman Fire Department at two places,” Melissa Papini said. “Just to make sure they are able to do their job well and that they know that we have their backs as well.”
Boardman firefighters got help from other departments. No firefighters were hurt.
In December of 2004, Greenwood Chevrolet in Austintown caught fire early in the morning. A building, which had parts and a car wash, behind its showroom and body shop burned. Someone driving by saw smoke and called 911. The roof eventually collapsed. That fire destroyed a half-dozen cars.