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Fire chief: Outbuilding at Winterstown auto business destroyed, propane heater blamed

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

Fire destroyed a watchman's quarters on the property of an auto-service business in Winterstown borough on Monday morning, according to Fire Chief Ben Grove of North Hopewell-Winterstown Volunteer Fire Co.

An employee who stayed overnight in the small building suffered a minor cut on his hand as he and co-workers tried to douse flames before firefighters arrived, but the man declined medical treatment at the scene, Grove said.

"It looks like they used multiple fire extinguishers, unsuccessfully, to try to put it out," the chief said.

Crews were called to A&E Auto Service, 12603 Winterstown Road, at 10:26 a.m., officials said. That's near the intersection of Church Road.

Despite treacherous driving conditions during Monday morning's snowfall and numerous stuck vehicles blocking roads, firefighters got to the scene in time to prevent the blaze from spreading to a second building, the chief said.

The small watchman's building was destroyed, as was a travel trailer that was parked next to it, according to Grove, who estimated total damage at $50,000. He said that's a conservative figure.

A small watchman's quarters and a travel trailer were destroyed by an accidental fire in the 12000 block of Winterstown Road in Winterstown borough on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, according to Fire Chief Ben Grove.

Propane heater: The fire was accidental, he said, and caused by an improperly installed propane wall unit. A gas grill-sized propane tank was stored inside the small building, which should never be done, Grove said.

It's unclear exactly what the heater ignited on fire, but the blaze spread from there, he said. Grove said he was told that employees use the watchman's quarters when they work late, instead of driving home.

"Last night, the individual stayed overnight because of the (forecasted) snow, so he could clear the lot today," the chief said on Monday afternoon.

Although wind pushed the flames to the nearby travel trailer, firefighters kept them from reaching the business's main building, which is separate from the watchman's quarters, Grove said.

Crews had the fire under control within 40 minutes, he said, and cleared the scene around 12:30 p.m.

There were many small items stored inside the watchman's quarters and the travel trailer, which made it difficult for firefighters to tear it all apart while searching for hot spots to extinguish, according to the chief.

Firefighters from about six other local companies assisted at the scene, including crews from the Shrewsbury, Stewartstown, Windsor, Red Lion, Felton, Dallastown and Yoe areas, Grove said.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.