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Fire ravages Dyke's Auto Salvage

WORTHINGTON -- A Worthington business that has supplied people from across the region with used automotive parts for the past 51 years was destroyed by fire Friday.

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(Cameron Jenson/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- A Worthington business that has supplied people from across the region with used automotive parts for the past 51 years was destroyed by fire Friday.

Five fire departments responded to the blaze at Dyke’s Auto Salvage along U.S. 59/Minnesota 60 south of town from mid-morning through mid-afternoon. Thick black smoke could be seen for miles as firefighters battled the blaze for more than four hours.

The fire began in the front shop of Dyke’s Auto Salvage and eventually spread to three surrounding buildings, including the office and two storage buildings.

“We were taking the gas tank out of a car,” Dyke’s employee Jim Naab said. “We took the gas line out and some fuel spilled on the floor. Then the water heater kicked in, and that’s what ignited it.”

Of the five full-time employees who work at Dyke’s, Naab said he and two others were in the shop when the fire started. Their main goal was to make sure everyone made it out safely.

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The employees used three fire extinguishers to fight the fire as Dyke’s co-manager Maralee Onken was told to call for help.

“Jim came running in and told me to call 9-1-1 and then get out of there,” she said. “Otherwise, I did not know anything was going on.

“It’s just a shameful thing that happened,” Onken said. “Accidents happen, but we are fortunate that no one was hurt. That’s what matters. Things can be replaced, but people can’t.”

The Worthington Fire Department was paged at approximately 10 a.m. Fire Chief Rick von Holdt said by the time he and others arrived at the fire hall, black smoke could be seen billowing toward the sky.

“We knew it was not going to be a good scene,” he said.

When firefighters reached the scene, all of the employees of Dyke’s were safe and out of the building. Von Holdt said he then called in mutual aid, with water support (tankers) and manpower ultimately coming from Bigelow, Rushmore, Round Lake and Lismore. Other departments offered assistance as well, von Holdt said. Worthington Public Utilities was seen hauling water to the site.

“There’s no hydrants out there and the magnitude of the fire was pretty hot,” von Holdt said. Tankers, including a 5,000 gallon tanker brought in from the Lismore Fire Department, hauled an estimated 75,000 gallons of water to the site to battle the blaze. Water was pumped into the tankers from two water stations at the Worthington Fire Hall.

In addition to getting water to the site, the big concern was the presence of flammable materials. Employees of Dyke’s had removed several explodable materials from the shop before the fire grew too large.

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“Probably throughout the first two hours of fighting the fire there was a lot of popping and banging going on,” von Holdt said. “There were a lot of explosions in there that could have been from containers that had flammable stuff ... engines and calipers and engine parts.

“Not knowing what was all in there … we pretty much took a defensive attack on that,” he added.

The Worthington Fire Department remained on scene until approximately 2:30 p.m., and von Holdt anticipated further calls to extinguish hot spots through the remainder of Friday.

Deputy State Fire Marshal Steve Kellen, who was in rural Brewster investigating an explosion that took place two weeks ago, stopped at Dyke’s on Friday to take photographs of the scene.

Dyke’s Auto Salvage owners Richard and Susan Dyke were in Wisconsin when they received the call Friday morning that the business was on fire. They checked out of their motel and drove straight back to Worthington.

“They said it burned and I didn’t realize it would be such a shock,” Richard Dyke said Friday afternoon. “We deal mostly in metal works -- metal parts -- but everything seemed to have something on it that burned.”

Dyke moved to Worthington in 1964 and in 1965 began selling used cars out of his brother’s tractor parts business along the highway south of Worthington. He later bought land and built a one-car garage as his repair shop just north of the original tractor parts building.

“Part of that (repair shop) was still there and we added on to it -- two buildings out to the back, (one) to the east. We kept building on,” Dyke said. “We’d drive a car in, strip it apart, take the engine and transmission out. It all went into inventory, and it was all stored on the back shelves.

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“If someone wanted a ’98 windshield wiper motor, we knew exactly where to find it,” he added. “You had to have it all (inventoried) -- everything was inventoried. It might be inventoried for two to three years until someone needed it.”

Dyke said he couldn’t put a value on what was lost in Friday’s blaze. There were car parts in his inventory for classic automobiles, hard-to-find parts for collector cars, and parts for most standard cars on the road today.

“We had a phone system that covered all over the United States -- we shipped all over,” he said.

The inventory at Dyke’s is, of course, the greatest loss. He initially thought he wouldn’t rebuild, but after meeting with employees and others, he was encouraged to reopen.

“They all want it opened up,” he said. “‘We need it,’ they say.

“We might level ’er out and build new,” he added.

While the Dykes own the business, they had 10 employees, including two managers.

Though only one building of the business remained standing Friday, co-manager Onken is optimistic about its future.

“Hopefully he will rebuild because we have a great group of people that work here and we work so well together,” she said. “We’ll have to just see what the insurance company and the owner decide. It’s up to them.”

Alvin Aielts, who has worked for Dyke’s off and on since the early 1970s, said the business is an important asset to the Worthington area.

“It’s a lifesaver for people who need to get their cars fixed and they can’t afford new parts,” he said. “They had a pretty good inventory.”

Susan Dyke offered her appreciation to the firefighters and all who responded to the fire on Friday.

“Our thanks to anybody and everybody that helped,” she said. “We don’t even realize yet how many people helped out. When we got back, it was a smoldering pile of stuff.”

Von Holdt also offered his appreciation to all of the fire departments that provided mutual aid, as well as “the huge support from the community.” Jimmy Johns and Burger King delivered sandwiches to the nearly 35 firefighters on the scene, and von Holdt’s wife, Dayna, also spearheaded a plan to get additional sandwiches, chips and water to the crews. Others donated bottled water and employees of Schaap Sanitation delivered bottled water and cookies.

As firefighters battled the blaze, law enforcement officers from the city of Worthington, Nobles County Sheriff’s Office and Minnesota State Patrol helped control traffic along the busy highway. While some vehicles were simply passing through, there were also a lot of locals that drove out to see the blaze.

“We did have a big problem with people slowing down and impeding traffic in the open lane and/or downright stopping on the highway,” said Nobles County Chief Deputy Chris Dybevick. “It is appreciated that drivers proceed with caution in an area where emergency services are operating, but everyone should remain aware of the traffic flow and their surroundings.

“One of the most dangerous duties we perform is traffic direction during emergencies,” he said. “There is a lot of people trying to perform lifesaving duties while drivers are trying to see what is going on -- not to mention the moving cars I observed with drivers taking pictures and videos.”

Sheriff Kent Wilkening, who monitored traffic along Minnesota 60 in front of Worthington Ag Parts, said most eastbound motorists were good about slowing down and moving into the left lane of traffic past the fire scene.

“We did have some that didn’t pay attention to the lights or were so involved in the fire, they didn’t even notice us there,” Wilkening said.

Low winds in a southerly direction kept smoke away from the highway, which was a great help.

Friday’s fire at Dyke’s Auto Salvage was the first major business fire in Worthington since the King’s Wok fire in March 2014, von Holdt said. Before that, he said the fire at Lang’s Bakery was also quite significant.

Related Topics: FIRES
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