The massive fire at an auto parts shop on Provincial Road started in dry brush next to a railway line, say witnesses who saw the blaze spread quickly to a couple of buildings.
Paul Winkler suffered the most damage as he watched his J&B Auto Parts shop go up in flames early Thursday afternoon.
He first realized there was a fire when someone ran down the road alerting store owners. Employees at J&B say they saw the flames in the brush along the side of the tracks at the back of the shop.
In a matter of minutes, flames engulfed the back of Winkler's store where he kept engines and transmissions.
"There's going to be a trailer set up here with some phones in the next couple weeks," Winkler said, looking at the damage alongside a group of his employees. "So, we're not out of business, but we're out of a building."
About 40 fire fighters battled the blaze, according to Deputy Fire Chief Andrea DeJong, hitting it from nearly every angle.
Emergency workers fought to "corner the fire," she said, adding firefighters also dealt with a partial building collapse.
Other witnesses say the fire could have been caused by a passing train that sparked the fire in the dry brush, but Dejong said it was too early to officially determine the cause of the blaze.
Traffic was stopped between Walker Road and the Sixth Concession to give crews space to fight the fire, according to Windsor Police.
A spokesperson for the Greater Essex County District School Board said students at nearby Talbot Trail Public School were kept inside during their meal breaks and school staff shut down the rooftop ventilation system Thursday afternoon to protect students from smoke.
A large cloud of black smoke blanketed the area at the height of the fire. DeJong said despite the fact cars and tires were inside the building the fire service was not overly concerned about air contamination.
"Obviously it's a dangerous fire, but the smoke at this point is quite clearly lifting above and … not blowing into any residential areas," she said.