Smoke from a fire in Gulfport on Monday could be seen for miles. The fire at an auto repair shop on Pass Road near Ford Street forced police to shut down the street for more than three hours.
The size of the fire brought nearly 20 firefighters to the scene to battle the flames, heat and another hazard.
"What I saw was a lot of black smoke coming," said Betty Fobber, a witness and flower shop owner. "Then I heard a couple of explosions, and we knew something was on fire out here so we called 911 right away."
Within minutes of that frantic call, Gulfport firefighters found flames shooting out of an auto repair shop.
Chief Pat Sullivan said, "We knew that the building itself was a total loss because we had fire from one end to another. We were trying to protect the homeowners, the trailers, that in some cases this is all they have left after the storm."
To save nearby homes and business firefighters endured the 90 degree heat. Add in the humidity and 70-plus pounds of protective gear and equipment, and firefighters say anyone who isn't careful could quickly become overwhelmed.
"We train a lot to keep up with the heat," said Gulfport firefighter Pete Moran. "It helps a little bit but in this kind of heat, you can't keep up the whole time. You've got to get everybody in here to take breaks and deal with it the best you can."
By calling in extra manpower, firefighters were able to rotate with frequent breaks, however, but the heat wasn't the only obstacle. The first two fire hydrants they tried didn't work.
"It could be a Katrina thing," said Chief Sullivan. "We're having issues from Katrina. We're going to continue to have water issues from Katrina. We've gotten some water systems on line but some of that water system is down because of damage. We [the city] may have had to cut off just that section."
Sullivan said, "We did have a delay in getting the first hose lines hooked up but, of course, we carry water in our trucks so we made the initial attack then we hooked the hose line. But with a large fire like this, you've got to have the fire hydrants, you've got to have that additional water."
The fire is out, but a question is still burning for neighbors.
Fobber said, "It was an old auto shop, like a garage, but it's been abandoned since the storm and everything, so we didn't know what happened."
Investigators still weren't sure Monday evening what caused the fire at the garage. No one was injured but officials say abandoned buildings have become a major concern since Katrina. Chief Sullivan asks citizens to keep a sharp eye out for suspicious people who may be in abandoned buildings.