Fire's cause unknown, but arson not suspected

Sunday, January 27, 2002

MORLEY, Mo. -- Investigators say there was too much damage to determine the cause of a fire Thursday at Wheeler Truck Trailer Equipment Co.

Firefighters were called out shortly after 5 a.m. to fight the fire, which destroyed one of the company's five buildings on U.S. 61 in Morley.

It contained a shop and the company's main offices, said Morley Fire Chief Teresa Hicks. Some 45 firefighters from eight different companies were called to fight the blaze, she said.

Butch Amann, an investigator with the state fire marshal's office, said he found nothing to indicate arson was involved.

Investigators believe the fire started near the center of the building and traveled outward to destroy the whole shop. They were unable to conclude if the point of origin was in the parts room or one of the offices.

Wheeler used the building to mount truck equipment. Depending on the contract, the company mounts dump bodies, salt spreaders and flatbeds.

The building was valued at $200,000, Amann said, but no final figure was available on the contents.

"They're probably looking at $500,000 to $1 million total," he said. The company is insured.

The Missouri Department of Transportation contracts with the company to build vehicles for MoDOT's districts in Sikeston, Willow Springs, Joplin and St. Louis.

MoDOT spokeswoman Angela Wilson said the state lost four trucks in the fire, but that won't have much affect on roadwork, and expects only minor delays in getting equipment.

The company has found a temporary building to replace the one razed by fire and is expected to be back in operation by Monday.

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