STUART — The Hog Technologies logo visible from Southeast Commerce Avenue appeared unscathed.
But broken windows, caution tape, police and firefighters exiting and entering the area with employees standing watch on the situation showed the gravity of the wreckage left by an overnight fire at the Stuart industrial-cleaning company.
The air reeked of the melted materials burned inside the warehouse in the blaze, which took 10 hours to extinguish.
Fire and smoke erupted Friday night inside the facility at Southeast Commerce Avenue and Southeast Market Place, damaging the inside, melting tires and destroying vehicles within the building.
No one was injured in the blaze, fire officials said.
James Crocker, CEO and founder of Hog Technologies, said he’s concerned about the interruptions in business caused by the fire and how it would affect his employees. More than a dozen of his 185 employees stood outside with him this morning.
“How do they get paid next week?” Crocker said today as he looked at the damage, which he estimated to be in the range of $20 million to $30 million. “How do I fund that until I can get back on my feet here? … I think those are some of the looming questions.”
Other employees at the scene declined to speak to a reporter.
The fire ignited around 9 p.m. inside the warehouse Friday as workers tried to clean one of the components of a truck. A cleaning solvent ignited and engulfed the vehicle in flames, said Stuart Fire Chief Vince Felicione. Firefighters don’t know what caused the solvent to ignite, but Felicione said it appears to be accidental and the origin of the fire.
At least two explosions igniting a large fire were initially reported Friday night. The fire spread to another truck and destroyed three in total.
Firefighters took about 10 hours to put out the blaze, Felicione said. Emergency responders first arrived around 9 p.m. and the majority stayed until 10 a.m. A Stuart Fire Rescue crew was still on scene this afternoon to monitor the area. A building inspector with the city of Stuart said the building is uninhabitable and no one will be allowed in, Felicione said.
Attacking the fire within the specialized warehouse created challenges for firefighters, the fire chief said.
The roof was caving in, making it dangerous to enter the building, forcing the firefighters into a long battle with the blaze from the outside. They used long-range hoses and ladders to hit the flames from a distance.
Hog Technologies, 3920 SE Commerce Ave., works with waterblasting systems to remove pavement and rubber markings from asphalt and concrete surfaces, especially on roads and runways. It also manufactures a variety of vehicles, according to its website. It began in 1988 as a small pressure-cleaning company.
Martin County and Stuart fire rescues, along with the Martin County Sheriff’s Office, responded to the fire and shut down Southeast Commerce Avenue while firefighters worked to contain the blaze.
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Sheriff’s officials said they believed anyone who may have been in the building escaped. There was heavy smoke in the area today and extensive damage to the building.
Crocker said the company has another smaller building on Southeast Monroe Street near the scene of the fire and is in the process of obtaining a permit to build another facility in Stuart.
Large vaults of oil and grease were spared, said Crocker. The three trucks that were total losses cost about $900,000 apiece, he said, and total damages could be an estimated $20-30 million.
The CEO said he still needs to figure out how to access 7,000 parts that are in a 35-foot-tall storage dispenser and other trucks within the uninhabitable building. He said he’s considering renting some space locally for his business, but doesn’t know of any locations nearby.
“I just have to believe that God will provide the wisdom, God will provide the resources, the blessing that will be needed to pull through this,” Crocker said.