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Perryville business destroyed by early morning fire

A long-time Perryville auto parts store and garage was completely destroyed by fire early Tuesday morning.

According to Perryville Fire Department Chief Anthony Young, a fire at Whitehouse Auto Parts and Tires store at 205 East Second St. was reported a little after 5 a.m.

He said firefighters initially tried to attack the fire from the interior of the building but quickly had to pull out because of intense flames and heavy smoke. Firefighters then begin a defensive battle against the fire from the outside.

Young said the second floor of the building contained at least 200 new tires and was fully engulfed in flames which could be seen leaping out from under the roof.

The old block building contained fuel, oil and equipment. The only vehicle inside the building was a service truck.

David Hastings carries a bag of absorbent material.

Later in the morning, as small fires continued burning under the collapsed walls, Young said heavy equipment was being brought in to knock down the remaining two side walls so that firefighters could continue putting out the fire. He said the building could smolder for days if that action didn’t take place.

The current owner of the business, Stephen Lester stood across the street and watched as firefighters did their best to contain the destructive fire and completely put it out. He would have owned the business for three years come this November. He said it was still too soon to comment on any future plans for the business.

The previous owner was Dennis Whitehouse, who was the second generation to have the auto parts store in Perryville. As he watched the action, Whitehouse said his father, Stanley Whitehouse, started the business just a few feet down the road in 1954. In 1958, the Whitehouse Auto Parts store moved to its current location. Dennis Whitehouse took over the shop and ran it from 1990 to 2014 before selling it to Lester. However, Dennis Whitehouse’s mother still owned the property.

Dennis Whitehouse said he was glad nobody got hurt. “It was just a building and not a home.”

After the block building was nearly knocked completely down, workers located an old black safe that was still intact.

The backhoe used to crush the remnants of the building pulled the heavy antique safe out of the debris, pushed it onto a bulldozer which then loaded onto a flatbed truck that was going to take it to a safe location.

Dennis Whitehouse said Lester owned the safe now, but Whitehouse had used it for years, too. He said it was from the early 1900s.

At the same time the last smoldering ashes were being put out, other firefighters were busy trying to contain the possible hundreds of gallons of oil, gas and other chemicals that were running from the auto parts store. Emergency Management Director Mike Wilder said the contaminants were being directed toward a ditch that had quickly been dug and absorbent compounds were being hauled in to soak up the mess.

The Whitehouse Auto Parts and Tire store fire, “Is a tremendous loss for Perryville,” Wilder said. “It’s one of the few stores in Perryville and to lose one of them, as vital as it is, it just really hurts.”