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‘Melted to the ground’

South Boston News
A decimated work truck belonging to Verlyn Emswiler of South Boston. / March 04, 2021
A Tuesday afternoon blaze at a Ponderosa Road residence destroyed an equipment shed and multiple vehicles belonging to Verlyn and Ruth Enswiler of South Boston.

The fire decimated several heavy vehicles that Verlyn Enswiler uses with his tree service business. The Enswilers also own and operate Enswiler Auctions, with an office in downtown South Boston off Wilborn Avenue.

Ruth Enswiler said she and her husband were returning from an auction in Clarksville Tuesday afternoon when they saw heavy smoke billowing in the direction of South Boston, some 20 miles away.

“The smoke was in the sky and we followed it the whole way,” she said. “We knew it was big and intense.”

Mrs. Enswiler said she learned en route that their house was not on fire, but losing the shed and the trucks and equipment inside “was a real blow.

“When we heard it wasn’t our house, we were very grateful, but it’s been hard,” she said.

Among the losses were three large trucks used in Verlyn’s tree business — a bucket truck, a ladder truck and a grapple truck — along with a spreader truck and smaller farm vehicles.

The heat from the fire was so intense, metal on the trucks buckled and burned. “When you see trucks melted down to the ground, that tells you something,” she said. “It’s unreal.”

The cause of the fire is a mystery, she added, since the vehicles were last operated some three weeks ago.

“We’re really dumbfounded, at a loss for an explanation. We have no idea what would have started this fire.”

The South Boston Fire Department received the call at 2:37 p.m. Tuesday and worked until 7 p.m. to put out the blaze, said Fire Chief Steve Phillips. The call came from a neighbor who looked out the window after hearing two loud booms.

“The booms were probably the relief valves on a couple of acetylene welding tanks located in the shed,” said Phillips.

“The fire was bad before we could get there, we could see black smoke billowing in the air from miles away,” he added.

As firefighters worked to extinguish the flames, they were startled by two tractor tires that exploded. “They sounded like a cannon, it’s a big boom,” said Phillips, adding one tire blew and about 30 seconds later another tire blew.

The shed contained a large amount of equipment along with the work vehicles.

Due to the number of items, “it was time consuming to make sure the fires were extinguished,” Phillips said. Firefighters pulled out as much machinery as they could.

With a blaze that big, firefighters called in water and water-tanker trucks from other departments for support. Due to the rural location, the nearest water source was a fire hydrant located on U.S. 58 near the World of Sports.

Firefighters made use of a water drop tank to combat the blaze — “it is like a portable pond or mini swimming pool,” said Phillips. Tanker trucks made about four to five trips each to the hydrant on Hwy. 58 and brought back water to keep the drop tank filled. The water drop tank can hold about two thousand gallons of water. The tanker trucks carry different volumes, some can hold 1,000 gallons others, 1,200 gallons.

The cause of the fire was unknown, but Phillips put the damage estimate at $750,000. The shed and contents are a total loss. An insurance investigator, who is typically a retired firefighter, will determine what sparked the blaze.

The South Boston Fire Department responded with three trucks and 19 personnel. They were assisted by the Cluster Springs Volunteer Fire Department, with two trucks and six people, The Virgilina Volunteer Fire Department came with two trucks and two people, the Turberville Volunteer Fire Department responded with one truck and two people, and the Midway VFD had two trucks and six people on the scene.

Mrs. Enswiler said she and her husband are grateful for the work of firefighters in bringing the conflagration at their property under control. Their home and other outlying structures were spared.

“They did a phenomenal job. They worked hard and we really appreciate it,” she said.

Also on Tuesday, South Boston firefighters responded around noon to 1207 Berry Hill Road to put out a vehicle that caught on fire. Michael Rhyne was using the car to try to jump the battery of another vehicle parked in a garage.

“He heard a pop and saw the car had caught on fire,” said Phillips. Rhyne’s vehicle was destroyed and the damages were estimated at $15,000. There was no real damage to the garage.

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