Morning blaze guts downtown auto shop

Fire causes extensive damage to 151-year-old stone building that houses Heinz 57 business

FIRE CREWS EXTINGUISHED flames in the attic of Heinz & Sons 57 Auto Body in downtown Grafton on Wednesday morning. There was extensive smoke damage throughout the building, which was built in 1868, Grafton Fire Chief Bill Rice said. Wisconsin Avenue was closed from Cedar Street to Washington Street while emergency crews were on the scene. The cause of the fire has not been determined, officials said. Top photo by Joe Poirier, middle photo by Sam Arendt

IN AN OCTOBER PHOTO, Heinz 57 Auto Body owners Robert (left) and Richard Rieck stood outside their business, which was founded by their father Heinz 56 years ago. The twin brothers are to be recognized as Outstanding Citizens by the Grafton Area Chamber of Commerce on Sunday, Nov. 24. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
JOE POIRIER
Ozaukee Press Staff

Robert and Richard Rieck are scheduled to be honored as Outstanding Citizens of the Year by the Grafton Area Chamber of Commerce this Sunday. However, if they participate, it will be with heavy hearts. 

Tragedy struck the twin brothers Wednesday morning when a fire destroyed their business, Heinz & Sons 57 Auto Body.

“It’s like a punch in the gut. I just feel sick,” Robert said. 

At 4:55 a.m., a passerby notified the Grafton Fire Department that flames were emanating from the roof of 1327 Wisconsin Ave. The fire was in the attic of the building, which was built in 1868, and smoke damage spread throughout the entire structure.

“On our arrival, we had heavy smoke conditions from the attic. Fire was coming out of the ends of the attic,” Grafton Fire Chief Bill Rice said at the scene. 

“It was difficult to get to because it’s an old building that’s over 100 years old and it caused a lot of difficulty due to the construction.”

When crews arrived to the scene, Rice said, they were able to get into the building and extinguish the fire. 

There was no one in the building when the fire occurred and there were no injuries to those responding, Rice said.

“It was a lot of work to get into the upstairs, where there were a lot of trap fires,” he said. “Essentially, it’s a large, confined space. There was a lot of fire that broke through two ends so it had a lot of oxygen to keep burning. 

“All the rafters were burning many layers of roof, which made it tough to extinguish.”

Richard said three cars were in the auto body shop for repairs and was not certain on the vehicles’ conditions.

“There was no fire below and they were covered so hopefully they’ll be OK,” he said. “We’re concerned about our customers because we got two months of customers coming in. I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Rice said the department is investigating the fire and did not know the cause as of Wednesday morning. He said it does not appear to be suspicious. 

“It will be quite awhile before we know,” Rice said. “It’s a very old building. It’s going to present a lot of problems that could have led to the fire.”

Wisconsin Avenue was closed from Cedar Street to Washington Street while emergency crews were on the scene. There were also closures between 11th and 12th avenues.

The fire did not affect any neighboring buildings. All fire departments from Ozaukee County arrived at the scene and also responding were the North Shore and Jackson fire departments. 

“It’s devastating. I was two blocks away and I could see the smoke and I started running down. I felt like I was going to throw up,” Richard said.

The auto body shop has been in business for 56 years in downtown Grafton. It was founded by the brothers’ late father Heinz Rieck. 

The brothers began working in the shop when they were 13, fetching tools and cleaning up after their father. They became owners of the two-man shop 32 years ago. 

“Back then, when our dad opened up the shop, Highway 57 ran through here. There was no freeway then, and that’s why 57 is in the company’s name,” Richard said in a previous Ozaukee Press story.

They told Ozaukee Press that they were planning to sell the building and business by next spring. 

“Right now, we’re not sure what we’re going to do going forward,” Richard said. “I want to thank all the firemen. They saved the building. Wood can be replaced, so hopefully we can fix it.”

The brothers were named Citizens of the Year by the Chamber last month and are to be presented their awards Sunday night at Atlas BBQ during the awards banquet before the Tree Lighting Ceremony in the Paramount Plaza. 

The brothers started the tree lighting ceremony in 1999, when Richard was a trustee on the Grafton Village Board. 

They also founded the Sons of the American Legion post in Grafton 11 years ago because their father served in Europe during World War II and six of their brothers fought in Vietnam.

In 2005, the Riecks’ company was given the Business of the Year Award by the Grafton Chamber.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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