UPDATE: Reward offered in McMinn County fire investigation
UPDATE: The Union Grove Volunteer Fire Departmentis offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) who may have set fire to a McMinn County business.
A McMinn County Fire Chief is counting his losses after his family-owned car shop went up in flames. The family says the third-generation shop caught fire early Sunday morning. It was used to restore classic cars.
Alvin Shoemaker has been the fire chief of Union Grove Volunteer Fire Department for more than 35 years. The shop sits just footsteps away from the fire hall.
"The way everything is looking, it looks like it was an arson fire," said Chief Shoemaker. "It's devastating, it meant a lot to my family. I went into the wrecker business after my little girl got killed in a car wreck and was in the wrecker business for 22 years, so it's apart of us,"
Shoemaker says he would have responded to the blaze, had he not been out of town winning a first place prize in Chattanooga's World of Wheels Car show.
"At 72-years-old, I still run 95 percent of calls myself," said Chief Shoemaker. "You know you go out and help people everyday, save their lives and their houses, you think it will never come home to you."
According to witnesses, the fire started inside of a motor home parked out front.
"The motor home was in dead storage so there was no batteries, no fuel and no electricity. It had to be set," said Wesley Ray Stewart, Volunteer Firefighter.
Inside the shop, Shoemaker worked to restore classic cars.
"We were working on a 1966 Chevelle SS car and a 1967 Malibu car," said Chief Shoemaker
Those two cars along with a 1947 Chevrolet Pickup and 2000 Jeep Cherokee were destroyed. With no fire insurance, the chief estimates the total damage to be about $600,000.
"We'll just have to take it a day at time, trust in the Lord that he'll make a way," said the Chief
Chief Shoemaker says thanks to his niece and nephew who were first on the scene, four classic cars were saved from the burning building.
The fire is being investigated by an arson team out of Nashville.
If you have any information that could help, call the Union Grove Fire Department or McMinn County Sheriffs Office.