STERLING HEIGHTS (WWJ) – A cleaning crew may have inadvertently caused a three-alarm fire at car dealership in Sterling Heights.

The fire took off just after closing time Tuesday night in the service department of Buff Whelan Chevrolet, along Van Dyke near 18 Mile Road.

Officials say chemical solvents used in mopping floors somehow came in contact with wiring or electrical components, which sparked the blaze.

The fire burned rapidly, and smoke could be seen for miles. A half-dozen nearby fire departments pitched in to help douse the flames, but not before the body shop and 20 vehicles were destroyed.

Sales Manage Tom Bechtel, who saw the smoke from his house miles away, didn’t realize it was coming from the place where he has worked the past 20 years until he got there.

“And then when I got down here, it was unbelievable. The flames were unbelievable and the smoke — I can’t believe a service facility would burn like that,” said Bechtel. “Unbelievable.”

Authorities say it was the largest fire in Sterling Heights history.

No injuries were reported.

The dealership will be open for business on Wednesday, according to owner Kerry Whelan. The showroom and used car department were untouched by the fire.

“We can’t thank enough all of the firefighters and first responders who tirelessly worked throughout the night,” Whelan said in a statement. “We would also like to thank our remarkable employees for their commitment and dedication, as well as the community for the outpouring of concern and support.”

Behctel says they are working out the details for customers with cars in the service department as well as customers wanting to buy cars.

An official cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Stay with WWJ Newsradio 950 and for the latest. 


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