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Monday, June 5, 2023
Fire aftermath: Burned-out NOTL facility wasn’t just a business, it was a ‘community’



When Reclaimed from Roots owner Mike Werner installed a new $50,000 automated system for cutting wood, he expected it would be a big step for his handmade furniture business.

He didn't anticipate that before he could even use it, it would go up in smoke along with the rest of everything he's built over the last five years.

On Feb. 9, that's exactly what happened, when a massive fire destroyed his business along with several others and priceless stored items at 1238 Townline Rd. in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined but damage was estimated at $2.5 million by fire chief Nick Ruller.

Several of the businesses have launched GoFundMe campaigns that have raised more than $25,000 so far.

"That whole building, that was my shop," Werner, 24, said, pointing at a pile of ash and rubble.

He then pointed toward the rest of the facility, owned by his father Darren Werner, where three 500-foot chicken barns converted to businesses were also burned to a crisp.

"That was all shops there. They're about 450 feet each, what used to be a chicken barn, but they were all converted into shops."

While it's clearly devastating to Werner's business, he also sympathizes with what he describes as a "community" of car and racing enthusiasts who had built a home base there, operating several shops and doing custom parts and modifications to mainly racing vehicles.

"It's a particularly big loss for those in Niagara's racing community," he said. "Most of the shops are really part of that racing community. And so it was a really big hit for them."

He said the community was "just a bunch of local guys" from the Niagara region, who often raced at Merrittville Speedway and Humberstone Speedway.

"It was a nice community here where they would have their own separate shops, where they would come together and swap parts," he said. "It was really cool."

"And then they had Doug and Todd Gordon here, who are pretty big pillars in the racing community. They build a lot of the frames for the race cars and they're both really well-known racers as well. Doug Gordon's in the hall of fame."

Knowing some of the vehicles that were lost to the fire, he thinks the damage is more than the $2.5 million estimated by Ruller.

"There were some (vehicles) that were pretty pricey in there. There's millions of damage, no doubt."

He said the loss will have a "trickle effect" on the racing community, "because a lot of race teams were here."

"Places like Merrittville and Humberstone, hopefully they'll help out the local racers and get them back on their feet as much as they can," he said.

He said insurance is likely going to be a challenge for many of the racers, as it is "hard to get insurance" on a racing car. 

"That's quite a bit of loss there."

Thankfully some areas were spared by the blaze, Werner said.

"Nothing was really touched in the greenhouses. There's a lot of cars and boats in there that were saved. So that's good. It was mostly the shops and my shop that got the most impacted where they burned to the ground," he said.

Among the items saved from the fire were old military vehicles, boats and some items in storage.

The Niagara Military Vehicle Association was the first shop to open up on the property about 16 or 17 years ago, Werner said.

"Most people don't know how big the property was and (how much stuff was) in the building."

He didn't comment on exactly how many businesses were operating there, but said "it was mostly just people who were working on their cars and hobbyists as well just working on their passion, whether that was racing or (mods)."

As for Werner's business, all that's left now are some large logs he had yet to start working on. But he is maintaining a positive outlook and hopes to reclaim his business from the ashes.

"I know that I can rebuild and come back, so I'm just not gonna think about what happened and just move forward. It'll be a good story once I come back from this, how the whole business was burned to the ground, but I'll rise up and I'll be able to rebuild it. I'm completely confident in that."

He said he's built a "good customer base" and is confident people will continue to appreciate his work when he's able to build again.

"But, it'll take a little bit of work now. Just a little," he said.

"I've been in the business for five years and was just getting to that point where I could afford to get the (new) machine and double my production."

He said that automated system, called a CNC machine, would have allowed him to do "the really crazy stuff that's been in my head for years,"

One project he had been excited to work on was a huge table out of one solid piece of weeping willow.

"This year I was going to make a 21-foot table. I had saved the slab for three years and then I was going to actually contact The Lake Report as well because I was gonna make a huge marketing plan there."

He said he thinks it would have been the biggest solid wood table in Niagara.

While he estimates his losses alone are around $1 milion, he's focusing on how to rebuild.

"I like to keep a positive attitude and just strategize," he said.

He has set up a GoFundMe to help with the cost of rebuilding the business. It can be found at www.gofundme.com/f/help-rebuild-reclaimed-from-roots.

His is one of several online fundraisers started for victims of the fire. Others include: www.gofundme.com/f/support-allen-gilleta-after-a-devastating-firewww.gofundme.com/f/lets-make-magic-for-dan-paulin-aka-danny-zzzzwww.gofundme.com/f/help-john-after-massive-firewww.gofundme.com/f/help-ross-crowe-race-againwww.gofundme.com/f/brendans-turn and www.gofundme.com/f/help-doug-todd-gordon-after-devastating-fire

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