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Reduced to rubble, but it could have been worse

tear glistened on John Henry Beard’s cheek Thursday morning as he walked through the ruins of his auto repair business destroyed by fire Tuesday night.

“I went to get the water hose. If I hadn’t, I would have been up in there, too,” Beard said of the fire that destroyed his garage.

Parked near the demolished building were numerous vehicles Beard and co-workers Lloyd Newman and Sylvester Beard had repaired or were in the process of repairing.

Keys to those vehicles were housed in a cabinet inside the garage and were destroyed in the fire along with several vehicles, titles, records, tools, auto parts and equipment.

Beard is unsure of his next step but is grateful no lives were lost.

Sylvester Beard was treated for his injuries at the scene, while Newman was airlifted to the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill where he was listed in “good” condition Thursday morning. 

“I’ve got to see where I come out on this, I’m at a tremendous loss,” Beard said Thursday. “I have so much going on right now. I don’t have no records or nothing. Everything burned up. The keys and the titles for cars, stuff like that is all gone. Thank the Lord I’m still here.”

Beard said he was tending to paperwork in his office, while co-workers Lloyd Newman and Sylvester Beard were working on changing a fuel pump when the fire started shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Newman and Sylvester Beard were changing a fuel pump when it began leaking several gallons of fuel, John Henry Beard recalled.

The two men were in the process of cleaning the fuel spill when a shop light fell to the ground, and the bulb broke sparking the fuel and igniting the fire, John Henry Beard said.

Newman had fuel spilled on his legs and was airlifted to Chapel Hill University Burn Center, according to Halifax County Emergency Services Coordinator Kirby Saunders.

Saunders reported multiple agencies from Virginia and North Carolina responded to the fire, and when most fire departments arrived on the scene, the concrete building housing the garage was fully involved.

All departments had cleared the scene by 10 p.m. Tuesday.

Saunders confirmed Wednesday the fire had been ruled accidental, and the garage had been declared a total loss.

“A rough estimate for the garage is $300,000. Thankfully it was insured,” said Saunders, who added Newman and Sylvester Beard were “very lucky,” because if the garage doors hadn’t been open that afternoon, the garage could have exploded. 

It’s possible both men wouldn’t have had a way out, he added.