Fire Destroys Auto Dealership - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

12/22/05-Athens

Fire Destroys Auto Dealership

Fire officials in Athens are calling it one of the biggest fires they've seen in a while. A late-night blaze destroyed one of the city's oldest dealerships, Eaton Motor Co., on Highway 31. Some of its employees lost tens of thousands of dollars worth of their own personal items and Christmas presents they had stored there.

"It was horrible sitting across the street, watching basically our whole lives burn down," said Eaton Motor Co. business manager Rhonda Mills. Mills rushed to Eaton Motor Company as soon as she heard about the fire. "It was frightening. There were things exploding on the inside of the building and we could just see different parts of the dealership going up in smoke," said Mills.

One more thing Mills watched burn down -- her two boys' Christmas presents. She was keeping them there so the boys wouldn't find them. "I had gotten them a weight bench, a bicycle ramp for their bicycles and their skateboards. I had some games for them and books," said Mills.

Tommy Raxter, who's worked at the dealership for 28 years, lost his girlfriend's Christmas present and $30,000 worth of tools.

The owner of the dealership, Hays "Tooter" Mills, 80, says everyone at work is very close, and this is a sad situation. "I've got some employees that have been here 25 years, so it's home to them too. They're the ones I feel sorry for. It's a bad time for something like this to happen," said Mills.

Mills says he plans on re-locating his dealership as soon as possible. What do Rhonda and Tommy plan to do now? "That's a good question," said Tommy. "Anybody looking for a mechanic that ain't got no tools?" "I don't know, I don't know," said Mills. "I'll see what I can do for them before Sunday."

Preliminary estimates put damages at $1-million. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Oralia Ortega reporting. ortega@kltv.com

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