Experts say impact of Flying J fire could go far beyond $4 million in damage

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (March 21, 2016) — Total damage from Sunday night’s three-alarm fire at the Flying J Travel Plaza is double the amount initially estimated.

The Indianapolis Fire Department said Monday the damage estimate had been increased to $4 million, including $3 million in damage to the structure, and $1 million in lost inventory and equipment.

The three-alarm fire broke out shortly after 7:30 p.m. at the Flying J and Denny’s near South Harding and Interstate 465, in the 1700 block of West Thompson Road.

An official cause of the fire had not been identified Monday afternoon, although investigators had looked into several theories based on witness statements at the scene.  One theory involved a trash outside the Denny’s restaurant attached to the Flying J’s central convenience store.  One witness said a discarded cigarette may have sparked the grease in the can, before wind blew the flames back to the building.

Battalion Chief Rita Reith said all theories and possibilities would be explored by investigators.  There was nothing to indicate the fire was suspicious, Reith said.

“Wow.  That’s all I got to say is wow,” said professional trucker, Barbara McNew.  “It’s just amazing to see something like this that we use every day.”

McNew said she has been a professional truck driver for 31 years and the Flying J was a frequent stop for her.

“This is going to have a big impact on drivers around here,” McNew said.

Although the fire did not damage any of the fuel pumps or tanks on the property, the fueling stations were shut down when the fire broke out.  It is presumed they will remain shut down as the computers and cash registers that work with the pumps were destroyed inside the central building.  Roughly 2,000 truck drivers refuel at the Flying J on a daily basis.

Barbara Hunt, Vice President of the Indiana Motor Truck Association agreed that the closure of the Flying J would have a significant impact on truck drivers who run frequent routes through central Indiana.

Hunt points out that the Flying J was more than a refueling station for professional truck drivers.  The facility also serves as a rest area, restaurant and shower area for men and women who make their living on the interstates and highways.

“Drivers may not only shower and get a meal and get their rest, but they also may get their equipment serviced, or get their truck washed or things like that.  So from an economic standpoint, I think that it will be huge.”

Hunt also noted that up to 200 truck drivers often park their trucks to sleep overnight at the Flying J, and federal guidelines are very strict regarding how many hours drivers can spend on the road.

“We already have a huge truck parking shortage,” Hunt said.  “Not just in Indiana but across the United States, it’s a top concern.”

Drivers will have the option of using the Love’s and Mr Fuel truck stops on the northern side of I-465.  Mr. Fuel is also owned by Pilot.  Several Mr. Fuel employees said they had noticed more traffic Monday with the Flying J closed down on the southern side of the interstate.

Indianapolis Fire Department officials did not have an estimate on how long the investigation would take.

Messages sent to Pilot Flying J regarding future plans to rebuild and reopen were not returned Monday.