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Business loses several autos in Norcross blaze

NORCROSS - A fast-moving fire in Norcross ripped through three acres of woods on Wednesday, destroying several parked cars outside of a local auto business.

Owner Tommy Chambers called 911 when an employee saw the smoke coming from the woods just outside of his business, Tommy's Diesel Service Inc. at 4400 South Old Peachtree Road.

Firefighters responded at about 12:55 p.m. The fire was already spreading quickly behind the business. It took more than 40 firefighters operating about 15 pieces of equipment to contain it, said Thomas Rutledge, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Fire Department.

They were able to keep the fire from spreading to the building, but not the nine vehicles parked outside of it, which were irreparably damaged.

Chambers said he was glad that nobody got hurt in the fire, which was his first concern when he saw it. His business, which he has owned for 39 years, only had a little exterior damage.

As part of his practice, he had removed the gas from all of the cars parked out there.

"I knew I didn't have no chemicals or gas along here, so I wasn't worried about that," Chambers said. "If they'd have been full of gas, there'd have been a lot of problems. A lot of problems."

When they arrived, firefighters saw there was a 5,000 gallon diesel tank. It was later discovered it was empty.

The cars and trucks were charred black, their windows and tires all blown out, and their hoods forced open. All of them belonged to Chambers or his employees.

Brian Litwiler, a customer, was lucky that his Ford truck got out before it suffered the same damage. The employees had finished working on the car on Tuesday, and he had been planning on picking it up Wednesday afternoon.

"He called me and told me it was done. I didn't think it would be over-done," Litwiler said.

The fire appeared to be accidental and have started in a wooded area near the railroad tracks, Rutledge said. The department contacted the Norfolk Southern Railroad to ask they temporarily slow rail traffic due to fire activity and dense smoke. No exact cause for the fire had been determined at press time.