Fire guts auto body shop near San Diego airport

SAN DIEGO -- An intense fire of unknown origin destroyed a Midway- area auto-repair shop Tuesday, causing an estimated $1 million worth of damage and sending a thick column of black smoke into the air near Lindbergh Field.

The non-injury blaze in the 4000 block of Pacific Highway erupted shortly before 8:30 a.m., according to the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

Firefighters arrived to find flames shooting from the roof of the building, which housed Diko Auto Repair and a boat-repair business fronting Wright Street. A water-dropping helicopter was called in to help battle the blaze along with fire engines and water tankers.

It took the personnel nearly two hours to fully subdue the fire, which gutted the auto shop. It was not immediately clear if the adjacent business also was a complete loss.

"A structural engineer evaluated the building and determined that it would have to be red-tagged -- no one allowed inside -- until there is further inspection," SDFRD spokeswoman Monica Munoz said. "Further inspection can possibly take place in the next couple of days."

Investigators were working to determine what caused the fire, which resulted in about $750,000 in structural damage and destroyed roughly $250,000 worth of contents, according to Munoz.

Firefighters remained at the site of the blaze, dousing hot spots, through the afternoon.

Dave Moore, who lives nearby, woke to the commotion.

"What I saw was a bunch of guys loading a bunch of boxes into a truck frantically," said Moore.

Moore said he thought the business below was getting robbed.

"That's when I saw the flames, there were 20-foot tall flames coming out at the building next to it," said Moore.

"Since it's an auto shop, there’s a lot of hazardous materials gas leak, oils and other chemicals that become more dangerous when they burn," said Battallion Chief Jeff Mitchell.  "Also, the roof holds the walls together, when the roof burns, you have other problems.

"We are going to keep two crews there until sunset and at that time will decide whether we have to keep a crew there overnight to watch and make sure nothing starts back up again," Munoz said at mid-afternoon.