BELTON, Texas — Budget Wrench-A-Part is one of the several businesses that experienced damage from a 150 acre wildfire in July. After being closed for a week and half and undergoing restoration across the property, the Belton salvage yard is reopening Wednesday.
The fire-causing damage to the property was the "Dog Ridge Fire" that ignited July 28. It was located south of Interstate 14 and west of FM 1670. As of Tuesday, the Bell County Fire Marshal's Office told 6 News the cause of the fire has been ruled as "undetermined."
However, there it's possible the fire started in a wooded area behind the 2600 block of FM 1670, said Bell County Fire Marshal Chris Mahlstedt. He couldn't elaborate on the origin but did say the fire did not start at Budget-Wrench-A-Part.
Ryan Eckerman, general manager of Budget Wrench-A-Part, said employees saw the flames and smoke from the fire several hundred yards away before it hopped the fence wreaking havoc.
"We worked hard at getting all the customers out of the yard, getting the employees out of the yard and trying to move cars away from the fence so that we can minimize damage as much as possible," he said.
Within moments, the fire started to leave its mark on the yard, taking out several hundred vehicles in the "premium lot."
"It started hitting the cars closest to the fence first and it basically chain reaction," Eckerman added. "One car to the next car to the next car to the next row."
Leaving a sense of emptiness across the yard, as nearly half the inventory is damaged and customers haven't been able to fill the rows.
"It really does hurt a lot," Eckerman said. "This was our way of helping out the customers that we have that come in on a regular basis and the new customers so that they can keep their cars running. And for everybody that I employ, this is our livelihood."
The fire would eventually spread to other portions of the lot as wind direction changed. Employees of Budget Wrench-A-Part and fire departments were able to make containment lines to save some of the vehicles and some areas.
Eckerman said if they didn't have some inventory left, they would not be able to reopen as soon as they aren.
"The progress has been going on and starts giving us a little bit more hope that things will go back to the way that they were and kind of find a normal again," he explained. "Every little bit that we could save was more to help us out in the long run."
Since the fire on July 28, employees of the salvage yard have been working overtime to get it back into shape to reopen to customers. Although Eckerman says it will take a while for it to be the way he wants it to be, it's a start and it's all thanks to his employees.
"They're willing to do what is necessary to help out the business and I mean at this point, I don't even want to even consider it a business," he said. "They're doing what is needed to get the family back up."
Cars are being moved around the lot. Crushed asphalt is being laid on top of the ashes and silt to help customers. Unusable and burned cars are being smash to be sent off to the metal mill.
As the doors are set to reopen Wednesday, Eckerman says the dust will settle on the burnt land.
"If you keep looking at it as a loss, then that's what it'll always be," he said. "We have to find the good out of it."
The fire has helped bring new strategies, layouts and ideas to Budget Wrench-A-Part and they're excited for the future.