While customers were upset their furniture and outdoor equipment was destroyed during a fire Tuesday at Highland Self Storage, it was the sentimental value of many items that was hardest to lose.
One woman was crying as she sifted through her 25-square-foot storage unit at 4015 S. Highland Drive that contained family photos, said on-site manager Kent Shelton.
"She was just in tears," he said. "But the firefighters here were helping her go through her stuff and recover some of them, which was just really awesome to see."
It took fire crews 45 minutes to extinguish the two-alarm fire that started when one renter was emptying fuel from his motorcycle. A portable heater was nearby and it ignited the fuel, said Capt. Clint Smith of the Unified Fire Authority.
Shelton and some of his staff ran to the unit when the man reported accidentally lighting the fire, but by that time the man's truck was engulfed, so they backed away and firefighters arrived a couple of minutes later.
Crews were able to contain the fire to half of a building filled with between 40 and 50 storage units, ranging in size from about 5 feet by 5 feet to 10 feet by 20 feet, Smith said. No one was injured during the fire, though Shelton said the man who started the fire had a gash on his head. The damage estimate to the building alone was $100,000, Smith said. While the building is insured, Shelton said, it's up to individual renters to insure their own belongings.
Renters sign an agreement stating they will not store dangerous materials, including gasoline, Shelton said. If a tenant violates that agreement, they are asked to remove the material and if they refuse, their contract is terminated. However, managers didn't know the man had gasoline in his unit, Shelton said.
It was a trying day for many of the renters whose items were burned or damaged by smoke, but one image will stick with Shelton.
"One firefighter was holding an American flag that had been burned on its edges," Shelton said. "He was taking care of the flag, and seeing that firefighter protecting the symbol of our country was just so cool to see."