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Fire causes $500,000 in damage to Highway Auto Salvage in Northampton

Northampton firefighters responded to a structure fire at Highway Auto Salvage on Mount Tom Rd. (Rt. 5) in Northampton about 8:20 a.m. Friday.
KEVIN GUTTING

Northampton firefighters responded to a structure fire at Highway Auto Salvage on Mount Tom Rd. (Rt. 5) in Northampton about 8:20 a.m. Friday. KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

NORTHAMPTON — A firefighter was injured Friday morning while fighting a blaze at Highway Auto Salvage at 182 Mount Tom Road (Route 5).

An employee of the business said sparks started the fire. Firefighters had it under control by 9 a.m., and a fire truck was still on scene Friday afternoon as firefighters checked for “hot spots” in the building, said Deputy Fire Chief Timothy McQueston.

The firefighter, the only person injured in the fire, fell from a ladder while attempting to access an attic area with trusses and he was taken to the hospital. , McQueston said the firefighter, whom he declined to identify, was recovering Friday afternoon from a wrist injury.

Northampton Fire Chief Brian Duggan estimated the blaze caused $500,000 in damage to the building and its contents, including vehicles that the company salvages for resale of parts.

Owner Edward Amo of Holyoke said he was hopeful, but not certain, that he would be able to salvage his business after the fire.

He took it over from his father in 1959 and now runs it with his wife, Rosemary, and son, David.

“We can probably keep going. We’ll do what we can, but we don’t have that kind of insurance,” he said while watching smoke rise from the 4,080-square-foot building at 9:30 a.m.

He said the business was probably only insured up to $100,000 and the loss of all the company’s computers would be especially detrimental. “We’re high-tech, we have to be. We buy and sell cars all over the country,” he said.

Amo said his employee, Ted Mendrala, was the only one in the building when the fire started at about 8:15 a.m.

Mendrala said the blaze started when he was using a torch to cut a car and sparks landed on an oil-covered crate and it quickly caught fire. He said he immediately tried to put it out with two fire extinguishers, “but it didn’t do any good, and when the heavy black smoke started I got out and called the Fire Department.”

McQueston said the cause of the fire was determined to be accidental. Duggan said that the cars and flammable materials helped fuel the fire’s rapid spread.

Duggan said that when firefighters received the call about the fire, they didn’t have any trouble finding it. “There was a large black column of smoke” visible from King Street, he said.

Half of the building was on fire when firefighters arrived, with flames shooting up the rear and into an attic space, Duggan said.

Firefighters from Easthampton and Amherst provided mutual aid and used a foam to blanket the melting cars and other highly flammable materials in the garage, he said.

There were about eight other fire or ambulance calls while firefighters battled the blaze, so ambulances from Southampton and a private company helped respond to calls in Northampton, Duggan said. Massachusetts State Police also responded.

Fire and police vehicles parked on the side of Mount Tom Road near the driveway for the auto salvage business caused a traffic jam near the ramp to enter the northbound lanes of Interstate 91. Traffic heading north was stop-and-go for about a half-mile throughout the morning.

According to its website, Highway Auto Salvage was established in 1955 and has more than 1,000 vehicles on 13 acres. The business has new and used auto parts and specializes in reselling wheels and wheel covers.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

It must have been a hairy situation out there at the fire scene, trying to access the tresses.

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