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Huge overnight fire burns business, destroys family’s dream

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Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the credit for the photo of the fire (photo 3).

A local business is destroyed after an early morning fire on Tuesday in downtown Sedalia.

At 4:33 a.m. Tuesday, a structure fire was reported at 101 W. Washington Ave. The metal building, which covered half a block, housed Martinez Body Shop and another business, according to the Sedalia Fire Department.

“Fire crews had fire all over when they got here,” said Deputy Chief Matt Irwin. “It's an auto body repair shop and they've got motor vehicles in there, RVs in there, forklifts, Bobcats, there's all kinds of things in there that will burn, and it just took off.”

Persons inside the building at the time of the alarm stated that they looked up and saw fire running above their heads in the roof as they left the building, Sedalia Fire reported.

Crews made it to the scene within four minutes, finding flames had emerged through the roof, illuminating the night sky. 

“It was a very large fire,” said Irwin. “We've got currently got all of our trucks in service, we did a total recall at the Fire Department and Pettis County Fire was out assisting with their apparatus as well.”

Around 45 firefighters and 13 pieces of equipment fought the inferno, which blistered the siding of a house to the south and spread into a railroad freight building to the north. Crews were able to put out the freight building fire within 20 minutes, but the building housing Martinez Body Shop was a total loss, burning down with 14 cars, an RV, two forklifts and a skid-steer.

“We're probably going to be out here most of the day. We've got a lot of metal that came down with the roof and the sides of the building that we're going to have to get under to put stuff out,” said the Deputy Chief.

The Martinez family was called in the early morning hours and rushed to the scene. Leobardo Martinez and his wife, Gabriela Galban, speak little English and used daughter Ariana Martinez to translate.

“They gave him a call at 4 in the morning and we came right away,” said Ariana for Leobardo. “When he saw the fire the only thing in his mind was to rescue the cars and be able to get them as soon as possible, but that was impossible,” Ariana said.

Watching the ladder truck dousing the smoldering ruins of the business the Martinez family had started 11 years ago, tears flowed as they were comforted by Father Dave Veit from St. Vincent’s.

“It’s something really tragic that they never thought was going to ever happen,” said Ariana. “He's saying that for him it was really hard to start his business from down until now. It was hard for him when he first started, people didn't believe in him. People start seeing that he did a good job on their vehicles and that he was dedicated and was doing a good job.”

“That's how he had clients, because of the hard work he would put in on his cars,” said Gabriela, showing Leobardo’s rough, calloused hands. “They never had to do some advertisement, their only advertisement was talk to talk from customers that they would do good comments.”

The family said they aren’t fluent in English, yet Leobardo would always be able to communicate with their customers and learn what they wanted to have done with their cars.

“For 11 years he's been working hard, he would work seven days a week trying to finish the cars because he's by himself and he knows what he's doing,” said Ariana. “We started from sleeping on the ground, this was the only way to make it out. This was the only way for my parents to make it out and to get up again and just seeing everything burn for them, it's just devastating.”

Leobardo didn’t have insurance as the building was too old, he was told. 

“When we first bought the building from the beginning, they told us ‘yeah you guys are going to have insurance’ and they basically lied to us knowing that we're Hispanic and they just took advantage of that,” said Leobardo through his daughter. 

“Just starting their own business, they were the first Hispanics in Sedalia to actually open a business and you know I'm really proud of them,” said Ariana looking up at her father. “They want to let people know is that if you put your mindset to sticking to something, anything will be possible.”

Looking over the smoking heap they had invested their lives into, Ariana again spoke for the whole family. 

“They know that this is a hard situation, and they know they're going to make it out again.”

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