Businessman helps battle blaze

By Amy C. Rippel | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted January 19, 2003

What started as a normal day for Keith Powers turned into a firsthand experience with firefighting and a close call with an explosive propane tank.

Powers, 42, worked frantically Saturday afternoon to battle a huge blaze that was closing in on his air-conditioning business, AARP Products and Services on Apopka Boulevard. The flames started at a nearby used-car storage yard. Gusty winds fanned it to his property.

Powers couldn't save his travel trailer, a boat and a blue pickup he called "old blue." It took firefighters more than an hour to extinguish the blaze that engulfed about 100 cars on the neighboring yard.

The fire marshal is investigating the cause of the fire.

"I was pretty intimidated," Powers said. "I heard something and I walked outside, and I saw flames about 50 feet high."

The fire started at a storage yard for Tico Auto Sales about 3 p.m. When Orange County firetrucks arrived, about five cars were in flames. By the time firefighters could get hoses hooked up, 10 to 12 cars were burning, Assistant Chief Charles Barrett said.

It took about eight fire engines, three tanker trucks and more than 40 firefighters to put out the flames.

Flames shooting into the air and thick, black smoke alarmed drivers, many of whom saw the telltale smoke plume from miles away. Explosions may have been caused by tires bursting in the heat, Barrett said.

"Once we got water on all four sides, we were able to put it out," Barrett said.

Tico Auto Sales owner Marcos Zarate said he lost thousands of dollars in car parts. He won't know the total in car losses until later in the week.

Before firefighters arrived, Powers was scurrying to save his property. Using a garden hose, he tried to save the travel trailer. Instead, a propane tank exploded in his direction. He narrowly escaped injury by crawling under a car and a van.

Once the flames were doused and only wispy white smoke was rising from the charred automobile bodies, Powers thanked firefighters.

"I appreciate you saving my business," he said, extending his hand to Barrett.

Amy C. Rippel can be reached at arippel@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5736