Two other structures threatened in evening blaze
Fire erupted in a garage on Gleason Street on Missoula's West Side Wednesday evening, destroying the wood frame structure and threatening a large garage on one side and a home on the other.
A tall column of black smoke snaking high into the pre-dusk sky attracted a horde of onlookers near South Third and Reserve streets and made access to the blaze difficult for rural firefighters who arrived on the scene about 7:30 p.m.
Flames leaped through the 400-square-foot garage, quickly reducing it to ashes as firefighters focused their attention on protecting a large garage a few feet away and a rental house at 2505 Gleason, about 20 yards to the south, where front shutters were singed from the fire's heat.
Firefighters ripped a drain and some shingles from the larger garage, owned by Tom Wheatley at 2509 Gleason, and sprayed water underneath to make sure the fire did not spread to that structure.
Because of the fire's proximity to neighborhood buildings, a second alarm was sounded minutes after firefighters arrived. At one point, they considered running a5-inch hose from a fire hydrant east of the blaze across Reserve Street for protection.
Wheatley hurriedly removed gasoline, acetylene and welding equipment from his garage - about 6 feet away - and pulled his pickup, which had singed paint on one side, out of danger shortly after the fire started .
A neighbor said kids were seen hanging around the garage and she heard three pops, like firecrackers, just before the building erupted in flames.
Wheatley, who was inside his house watching the Yankees game on television when the fire started, said the neighboring garage has long been a fire hazard.
"I've been waiting for something to happen to it," he said. "It was never taken care of."
Fire investigators were interviewing neighbors and witnesses to try and identify who might have been in the garage in the minutes before the fire started.