ST. GEORGE — A fire at the nearly 75-year-old Gene’s OK Tire & Muffler building on St. George Boulevard closed traffic on a portion of the street for at least two hours early Wednesday afternoon.

Scene during fire at Gene’s OK Tire & Muffler building on St. George Boulevard, St. George, Utah, Jan. 3, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

There were no injuries to firefighters or occupants in the former tire business at 333 W. St. George Blvd., which according to firefighters is being used mostly for storage by the new owners before eventually being torn down for apartments.

Initially, a column of black and gray smoke could be seen coming out of the old building, with an occasional flicker of flame.

A firefighting effort consisting of five St. George Fire Department engines and a ladder truck confined the blaze to the single building, with a few roof trusses falling and some second-floor trusses burned.

St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker told St. George News there is nothing suspicious about the fire initially, though an investigation is ongoing. He said the fire appeared to have started in a burner heater that is fueled by used motor oil.

“It was a fairly new heater, it looks like,” Stoker said. “These are commonly used throughout the repair shop businesses. I know our city fleet has several of these in their buildings up there. The occupants stated they started this last week and ran it for several minutes to make sure it was working. Then today, they started it this morning about 6, 6:30.”

Stoker said the heater on the ground floor sent heated exhaust through a pipe or flue to the roof in the multi-story building. It was next to the flue in the top floor where the fire started, he added of the initial investigation.

Overhead view of fire at Gene’s OK Tire & Muffler building on St. George Boulevard, St. George, Utah, Jan. 3, 2024 | Photo courtesy of George R. Cannon Jr., St. George News

“It started the flooring trusses on fire or there is some combustible materials stacked there,” Stoker said. “It’s an old storage room they used for tire storage up there. It really doesn’t have a lot in it now, but it looks like there’s a lot of stuff that’s been left there that may have been thrown over in that corner with the flue.”

The fire was first reported around noon and was mostly extinguished by 12:45 p.m. Both directions of St. George Boulevard were closed by St. George Police from Bluff Street to 300 West — with 300 West also closed a block each way.

By 1:12 p.m., the westbound direction of the boulevard was reopened with the other direction following at 2 p.m.

According to the Washington County Historical Society, the building has been at the boulevard location since at least the 1950s, when it opened as OK Rubber Welders. The business became Gene’s OK Tire & Muffler in 1978 and recently came under new ownership.

“There’s some work that goes on in there, but it sounds like it’s mostly just from storing equipment and some other things,” Stoker said. “There is some mechanic work that does go on in there, but that’s temporary until they replace the building.”

Along with the efforts of local firefighters and police officers, a utility crew climbed a nearby pole to cut power to the building while a Washington County drone provided overhead coverage looking for hot spots during the firefighting effort.

The skies were overcast at the time of the fire, but the rain had not started yet. Chilly temperatures in the high 30s proved to be an extra challenge, according to Stoker. 

Scene during fire at Gene’s OK Tire & Muffler building on St. George Boulevard, St. George, Utah, Jan. 3, 2024 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Just four months ago, a fire at a spa store on Red Cliffs Parkway had firefighters at risk of heat exhaustion. This time, the challenge was the opposite. 

“This time of year, we start worrying about hypothermia,” Stoker said. “Where our crews were going in, they’ll get wet. They’ll get saturated.”

Stoker said while fighting the current fire, crews would alternate, with one fireman coming out to renew wet equipment and warm up while another went back in.

It’s a building his department was well aware of from annual inspections, Stoker said, which aided the firefighting effort. With narrow stairways up to the fire, the initial goal was to make sure the fire didn’t spread beyond the building or to the top floor. Then, crews were sent in with siding taken off the west side of the building and water applied.

Also helpful was that the fire started and remained on the top floor of the two-story building that had been added onto the first building in later years.

“Fire burns up and out,” Stoker said. “So we didn’t have that fire down on the lower floor to where it was spreading up through those other floors.”

St. George News reporters Ron Chaffin and Jeff Richards contributed to this story.

Photo Gallery

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2024, all rights reserved.