HELGA TOWNSHIP, Minn. — Emergency personnel responded to a large fire Wednesday afternoon, March 17, at Mike's Auto Salvage south of Bemidji along U.S. Highway 71 in Helga Township, according to a release from Bemidji Fire Chief Justin Sherwood.

Upon arrival, Bemidji firefighters found a heavy fire and smoke showing throughout the building. Firefighters went into defensive mode as fire conditions did not allow them to make any type of interior attack, the release said. A mutual aid request was then made for additional resources due to the size and condition of the fire.

Firefighters were at the scene for more than five hours with 50 firefighters and 19 pieces of equipment, Sherwood said.

Flames and smoke rise from a fire at Mike’s Auto Salvage on Wednesday, March 17, 2021, along U.S. Highway 71. Photo courtesy of the Bemidji Fire Department.
Flames and smoke rise from a fire at Mike’s Auto Salvage on Wednesday, March 17, 2021, along U.S. Highway 71. Photo courtesy of the Bemidji Fire Department.

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Two firefighters suffered injuries at the scene, their conditions have not yet been released. One civilian suffered second degree burns to his arms and torso. He is being held at a burn center in Duluth, according to the release.

Flames and smoke rise from a fire at Mike’s Auto Salvage on Wednesday, March 17, 2021, along U.S. Highway 71. Photo courtesy of the Bemidji Fire Department.
Flames and smoke rise from a fire at Mike’s Auto Salvage on Wednesday, March 17, 2021, along U.S. Highway 71. Photo courtesy of the Bemidji Fire Department.

The structure and its contents, valued at $500,000, are a total loss. The fire is under investigation, but is considered accidental in nature.

Mike Lyle, owner of Mike’s Auto Salvage, said Thursday, March 18, that the fire started after a gas line ignited accidentally.

“I lived upstairs (in the shop) and lost all my clothes and everything. All my stuff is gone, and I’m just beside myself,” Lyle said. “I had probably $50,000 to $60,000 in tools that are all gone. It’s just devastating.”

A GoFundMe page has been created by Lyle’s sister Kristin Hanson to help him recoup some of his losses. The page can be found by searching “Help Mike Lyle out with expenses after fire” on gofundme.com.

“This is all just wild. I never ask for help, I’m always the one helping others, giving them good deals and parts and everything,” Lyle said. “It’s just overwhelming having all these people saying they want to help me, just talking about it makes me want to cry.”

Charred debris is all that remains of the shop and surrounding area at Mike's Auto Salvage on Thursday, March 18, after a fire broke out there on Wednesday afternoon. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)
Charred debris is all that remains of the shop and surrounding area at Mike's Auto Salvage on Thursday, March 18, after a fire broke out there on Wednesday afternoon. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

Mike's Auto Salvage is about 12 miles south of Bemidji, Minn., on U.S. Highway 71. A portion of the highway near the fire was closed for part of the day on Wednesday as a safety precaution.

The Bemidji Fire Department was assisted at the scene by the Cass Lake Fire Department, Lake George Fire Department, Lakeport Fire Department, Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office, Minnesota State Patrol, Minnesota State Fire Marshal’s Office, Bemidji Ambulance Service and Northern Aggregate.