As Kyle Penner watched a car he loved burn last Tuesday, he also said goodbye to a lifestyle.
Although that’s only temporary, he said.
He and a group of friends shared one of the larger storage units on Townline Road that was the site of last week’s $2.5 million fire, he says.
But it was more than that to them. It was a shop where they could work on their cars, share their hobby and love of cars, and hang out together after work and on weekends, when permitted and following pandemic restrictions, says Kyle.
In the summer, they spent less time there, “because we’d be out driving around in our cars.”
He and his father Kevin were on Lakeshore Road when Kyle received a call from his friend, whose car was in the same unit, and they headed straight there.
“We got there about 20 minutes after it started, and started pulling stuff out with my dad.”
There were eight cars in the shop which he shared with seven friends, a 30 by 60-foot space, one of the larger ones, with eight cars in it the day of the fire.
He and others who were onsite when the fire started or who had raced there when they heard the news were getting what they could out of the units, including cars and tools.
With firefighters on the scene, appearing early on to be getting the fire under control, Kyle and his friends were able to move the two cars closest to the door in his unit outside to a safe location. His car was next.
“I was almost in the driver’s seat,” he says of his 2015 Nissan 370Z NISMO, his prized possession. He had taken the car to the unit so he could work on it — he didn’t usually leave it there, he says.
He sensed the fire coming closer, but felt it was still far enough in the distance for him to safely move his car, and maybe his friend’s Scion, the one next to his.
The firefighters, however, were by then telling tenants of the shops to leave the units and move away from the fire, which they did.
“We were all in this together, and we lost our cars together,” he says.
His car and the other five still in the shop were destroyed by the fire. All he was able to save of his own was a set of wheels.
When he first arrived at the site, he says, “I didn’t think it was going to be that bad. Then the smoke started pouring through the roof, and within about 45 minutes, it just became the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. It had really looked like the firefighters were going to get it under control, that it was being contained. But then it took off.”
He said it was stressful when he was hoping to get his car out, but once he saw the fire spreading and had to give up on that, he stood back and watched, impressed with the professionalism of the firefighters, seeing they were doing everything they could in a difficult situation.
“Once the fire went into the roof, we could see there wasn’t much they could do. I don’t think they could have done any better than they did. I know a lot of the firefighters. Some of them, and some of the police who were there, are my friends. There just wasn’t anything more they could do.”
He has insurance, as do his friends who share the shop, he says. They will all be dealing with that in the coming weeks, with no idea how long it could take to be settled.
In the meantime, he has already been looking at cars to replace the Nissan, which he values at about $35,000.
He also needs to buy new tools, and he and his friends will be hunting for a new shop and storage space.
“This was just a hobby for us, something to do in the winter. I don’t drive my car that often, mostly just in the summer. It’s something we do as a pastime.”
He had first rented a smaller shop on the property about two or three years ago, then moved to a larger one with his friends, he says. Being able to spend time there, hanging out together and working on their cars, meant a lot to all of them.
“We put so much into it. We were there often, working on our cars. It was something for all of us to do in the winter.”
He and his friends are all going to be looking at cars to replace what they lost, and for a new shop, which might be harder to find, but they’ll do it together, he says.
“We’ll get it figured out.”