Salvage yard owner speaks out after fire

CREATED Apr 24, 2014 - UPDATED: Apr 24, 2014

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MILWAUKEE -- A three-alarm fire ripped through Roz Auto Salvage on S. 13 St. near Mitchell International Airport.

It started just before noon Thursday, and forced nearby homes to be evacuated. City bus routes and a freeway ramp also had to be detoured.

TMJ4 got an exclusive tour of the damage from the property's owner, Rick Rozanske.

Rozanske says the salvage yard has been a family business for more than 50 years. He never thought he'd have to deal with the pain of watching his livelihood go up in flames.

The heat from the fire caused the roof of the building to collapse, and exploded some cars in the lot. It's a total loss.

The charred remains are all that's let of thousands of dollars worth of auto parts and equipment.

"It's tough to look at it," Rozanske says.

Just hours earlier, he walked into the scariest moment of his life. "I had just gotten to work, and heard them yelling. I went to the back right away."

Four workers were in the building when it caught fire. Luckily, they made it out just in time.

"Everybody just started running for fire extinguishers," he says.

Firefighters quickly took over. The TMJ4 helicopter was there as they battled the blaze from every angle.

"It was really scary," Rozanske says. "You could hear and see explosions coming from the building."

Those explosions, along with the bright flames and billowing cloud of black smoke could be seen from miles away.

Some TMJ4 viewers sent photographs of the smoke from airplanes landing at Mitchell International.

Others, captured the chaos from the ground with their cell phones.

"It all happened so fast," Rozanske says. "We just felt so helpless. But all we can do from here is work to slowly rebuild. Thank God no one was hurt. That's the silver lining in all this."

Rozanske is humbled by all the calls and support he's received from customers and community members.

He believes some propane leaked and quickly ignited the fire. But the official cause of the fire is still under investigation.