Fire destroys cars, AAA offices in Forest Acres

No one was hurt, but a fire caused more than $2 million worth of damage to the AAA office and car care center in Forest Acres on Monday afternoon.

Almost 50 Columbia Fire Department firefighters using ladders battled the fire for an hour and a half before bringing it under control around 3 p.m., said Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins.

The damage included seven cars destroyed inside the AAA garage. The cars were being worked on by mechanics, Jenkins said. Three cars outside the shop were heavily damaged, and six others nearby were moderately damaged.

The fire started inside the garage area, where the mechanics were working on cars and using an oil heater to keep warm.

“One guy said he heard a sound and turned around and the oil heater was on fire,” Jenkins said. “It spread so quick they couldn’t do anything with it.”

The six workers inside the garage managed to escape, along with 11 employees and three customers who were in the front offices, Jenkins said. The fire mostly fed on the walls and ceiling, he said.

The modern one-story brick building is at 4526 Forest Drive, between Trenholm Road and Clemson Avenue.

The fire sent thick black smoke billowing hundreds of feet in the air. It could be seen all over Columbia. City police diverted traffic on Forest Drive to Clemson Avenue, keeping drivers well away from the fire.

Workers told the fire department they had an oil heater in the garage area in which they burned recycled waste and oil to heat the building.

Raw video: Forest Drive business fire

Video courtesy of Andrew Morris