PEPPERELL — A three-alarm, smoky fire seriously damaged the Conway Chevrolet Buick dealership on Tuesday, forcing owner Richard Conway and three employees from the building. Firefighters from Pepperell, Dunstable, Groton, Tyngsboro, Townsend and Hollis, N.H., to the scene.
Police officer Steven Burke had called in the initial report of smoke showing when he drove past at approximately 7:30 p.m. About that time, Conway and his employees were exiting the building.
Heavy smoke had blanketed the area by the time Pepperell Engine 5 arrived minutes later. Most of the flames appeared concentrated in the eaves of the roof. Pepperell firefighters used Chainsaws to cut ventilation holes through the asphalt shingles, working both inside and outside the roof.
Meanwhile other firefighters were removing valuables from inside the building. The sculpture of a seated farmer that graced the showroom was one of them. Conway’s trademark 1946 Chevrolet pickup truck was also moved from harm. The treasured Pepperell Mural that Conway had commissioned as a gift to the town last summer was safely removed by some employees.
Conway directed some of his employees to move vehicles out of harms way. Carrying the board of keys from the showroom, they worked through thick smoke to fit the keys to new vehicles and those awaiting repair.
”Thank God no one was hurt,” Conway said as he watched Ladder Company firefighters climb to the heavily smoking eaves of the roof. “The rest of this can be taken care of.”
Conway said he believed the fire started in a bird’s nest above the blue and white electric sign over the front entrance.
”It must have caught fire when the sign lit,” he said.
Shortly afterward the flames spread to the far end of building along the interior roof line.
”It backdrafted,” fire Chief Costa Bozicas said. “The whole end wall flexed in and out a couple of times as the air was sucked in.”
With each flex of the wall, insulation was blown out of the building. Bozicas reported that the fire was under control by 8:15 p.m.
”This is terrible,” said EMT Captain James Casserly. “Why does it have to happen to someone like Dick. He’s one of the good guys.”
Salvation Army disaster workers and the Fire Department’s women’s auxiliary were at the scene. Brookline and Nashua, N.H., firefighters manned Pepperell’s stations.
Pink insulation littered the parking lot on Wednesday. More insulation and ceiling tiles covered the floor of the repair bay and two vehicles inside. The car and truck did not appear to have suffered damage from the flames.
The fire did start in the large bird’s nest, said Bozicas, but that it was ignited by a smoldering cigarette butt one of the birds carried to it. An outdoor smoking Que is located directly underneath.
By 9 a.m. a portable generator was supplying electricity to the parts department and telephone workers were replacing lines.
”We can sell parts right now,” Conway said. “We’re waiting for the insurance adjuster. I hope to be back in business soon.”
David Long, Conway’s insurance agent, said he was told about the fire by Steven Gervais, of Gervais Ford, who called him Tuesday night.
”It’s good to see that competitors care about each other’s businesses,” Long said.
A damage estimate to the building and vehicles in the service area was awaiting evaluation. Restoration crews had begun cleaning up the interior by 9:15 a.m. Conway later met with employees to plan the next steps in recovery.