LOWER TOWNSHIP — A fire ignited when workers were removing a gasoline tank from a junked car destroyed the building Monday at Cape May Used Auto Parts on Shunpike Road.

All three workers, four cats and a dog got out safely.

Black smoke from the fire, due in part to burning tires, could be seen for miles on the clear autumn day.

Fire companies from as far away as Dennis Township responded. Water was trucked to the blaze because there were no hydrants.

The fire started around 1:30 p.m. Chief Lewis Megonigal, of the Town Bank Volunteer Fire Company, declared it under control about one hour later.

“It was surround and drown. That’s all we could do. It wasn’t safe to go in there. There were several explosions while we were here,” Megonigal said at the scene.

The building was a total loss, he said.

Cape May Used Auto Parts owner Robert Cummiskey said the fire started when workers were removing a gas tank from a car and may have been sparked by a drop light they were using.

“The car was destroyed, but that was a junker anyway. I’m just glad everybody got out,” Cummiskey said.

There was no explosion, just flames, and they spread quickly, he said.

“We had some good fire extinguishers but it was quick,” Cummiskey said.

He has owned the business for 36 years, but before that, it was a car junkyard called Johnney Bumps, he said.

Cummiskey escaped along with two part-time workers, while the dog jumped through a window.

He said he would like to rebuild.

“We’ll see what the insurance company says,” Cummiskey said.

Megonigal said the fire was coming through the roof when firefighters arrived.

Fire companies came from Town Bank, West Cape May, Cape May, Villas, Erma, North Wildwood, Cape May Court House, Green Creek, Rio Grande, Cape May Point, Stone Harbor and Belleplain.

The Cape May Police Department, Lower Township Police Department, Cape May County Fire Marshal’s Office and Lower Township Rescue Squad also responded.

Contact Richard Degener:

609-463-6711