What started as a glow that Dani Rees saw from the office window into the shop area at Mid-Iowa Towing, quickly turned into a massive inferno that left her and her husband’s business completely leveled Friday afternoon.
No serious injuries were reported.
“I was in my office and saw little bit of fire out of the shop window,” said Rees, who owns Mid-Iowa Towing with her husband, Mike. “I yelled for everyone to get out and everyone got out. It happened fast – real fast.”
Firefighters were called to the scene at 1:20 p.m.
Heavy smoke and fire quickly overwhelmed the shop and eventually the office, which is connected. The business is located in Barnum’s fire district at 1914 Kountry Lane, west of Fort Dodge.
Intermittent explosions could be heard as the fire grew, blowing debris several feet from the shop.
As the fire spread to the office, piles of white paper blew out of the front door.
The high wind gusts blew the thick, black smoke to the north and across busy Iowa Highway 7, impacting visibility for traffic.
About 10 people were inside the building when the fire started, according to Rees.
One of them was Matt Knowles, of Fort Dodge. Knowles had bid on a vehicle on Thursday and was there to pay for it on Friday.
“I was finishing up the paperwork, getting ready to pay for the (Chevrolet) Blazer that I bought,ã Knowles recalled. “All the sudden we could see glowing from the mini blinds of the office to the shop. They started screaming fire and within a matter of seconds, it was out of control.”
Knowles stayed until he was sure everyone was out.
“I wasn’t the smartest about it,” Knowles said. “When that happens, I would want someone to come get me.”
Two employees suffered burns to their hands, Fort Dodge Fire Chief Steve Hergenreter reported.
One was treated on scene by Fort Dodge paramedics. The other employee was transported by private vehicle to the emergency room at UnityPoint Health – Trinity Regional Medical Center. Hergenreter said the employee has since been treated and released.
By the time firefighters arrived, flames were shooting through the roof.
Capt. Jeff Hill, of the Fort Dodge Fire Department, reported that firefighters and paramedics came in two engines and an ambulance.
“There are no hydrants out here in this area,” Hill said. “We attacked it with all the water we bring with us in our hoselines.”
Hill said firefighters from Barnum, Badger and Clare brought tanker trucks and engines.
“Once we ran out of water, we switched over to their tanker trucks to supply it with water,” Hill said. “And they shuttled water back and forth from a city hydrant at the corner of (U.S. Highway) 169 and (Iowa Highway) 7.”
Once the fire calmed down later in the day, excavators and other heavy machinery were being used to sift through the rubble.
The initial investigation into the cause indicates the fire started after an employee used a cutting torch that ignited vapors from gasoline, Hergenreter reported.
Nine Fort Dodge firefighters responded to the initial call. Eleven off-duty firefighters were called to cover the fire station, Hill said.
Another 20 firefighters from Clare, Barnum and Badger responded.
The Fort Dodge Police Department, Webster County sheriff’s deputies, Iowa State Patrol and MidAmerican Energy Co., were also called to the area.
While Rees was thankful that no one was seriously hurt, she said it’s difficult to put a value on a business she and her husband worked so hard to build up.
“You can’t put a value on a business that we built from very little to what it is now,” Rees said. “It means more to us than a number value.”
Mike and Dani Rees have owned Mid-Iowa Towing since 2010. They purchased the business from Mike Rees’s parents, Roger Rees and Karen Rees, who had owned it since 1980.
“We started with three trucks,” Dani Rees said. “Ten years later, we have 11 trucks and 10 employees.”
Mid-Iowa Towing currently provides towing service for the city of Fort Dodge.
Dani Rees fully anticipates the business rebounding from the setback.
“One thing at a time,” she said. “We may have been pushed, but we didn’t get knocked down. We are still going to keep going. It’s what we do.”