A two-alarm fire that heavily damaged the AutoZone store on State Highway 72 in Rolla Thursday morning has been ruled suspicious and incendiary in nature.
Firefighters with the City of Rolla Fire and Rescue responded to the blaze at approximately 5:45 a.m. at the store, located at 505 Highway 72, just east of U.S. Highway 63.
There were no reports of injuries to occupants or firefighters.
When fire crews arrived, they found heavy smoke and fire coming from the basement area of the building.
The fire department initially responded with nine firefighters and two 75-foot ladder trucks and firefighters began to extinguish the fire from the interior of the building.
A second alarm was activated with an additional 14 off-duty firefighters and command staff responding.
Due to the large structure and extent of the fire, the Rolla Rural Fire Protection District and the St. James Rural Fire Protection District responded providing an additional 12 firefighters at the scene.
as well as covering additional fire-related incidents within the City of Rolla.
After about 30 minutes of efforts to put out the fire from the inside, the decision was made to remove all firefighters from the interior of the building because of a failing structural integrity of the floor, walls and roof.
“We couldn’t risk sending people in to the building because of parts collapsing,” said Rolla City Assistant Fire Chief Ron Smith.
Using a backhoe and jackhammer attachment, fire crews were able to make an opening in the concrete basement walls which allowed firefighters access into the burning area.
The fire was under control by around 9:02 a.m. with the direct flame damage being contained to the basement.
Fire crews battled the blaze with morning temperatures only in the teens.
“I am extremely happy with the performance of the firefighters as they battled a complex fire while enduring severe cold weather conditions,” said Rolla City Fire Chief Robert Williams.
Due to the extreme heat of the fire, the floor joists were twisted and distorted which caused shifting and bowing of the floor. This damage caused many of the shelves of the store to fall and collapse, which destroyed the majority of AutoZone’s inventory.
Damage to the building is estimated to exceed $100,000 and damage to the personal property which includes AutoZone merchandise is approximately $900,000.
The owner of the property, Warren Dean, did not have insurance on the property and AutoZone is self-insured up to a certain amount, according to Smith.
Dean had military salvage equipment, including old engines and gaskets as well as thousands of old military heaters on pallets with wax paper that burnt, Smith said.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources also responded to the fire due to the risk of contaminates entering the stormwater system.
Page 2 of 2 - The fire was investigated by the City of Rolla Fire and Rescue in conjunction with the Missouri Division of Fire Safety and the Rolla Police Department.
The City of Rolla Fire and Rescue extends its appreciation to Rolla Rural Fire Protection District, St. James Fire Protection District, Phelps County Regional Medical Center ambulance services, Rolla Municipal Utilities, Rolla Street Department, RPD and Volunteers in Police Service, Rolla Building Codes Department, Missouri State Highway Patrol, Phelps County Sheriff’s Department, Missouri Department of Transportation, DNR, Country Mart, Benton Square and Pizza Inn.
If anyone has information regarding this fire, call the Missouri Arson Hotline at 1-800-392-7766 (800-39-ARSON).