As employees and family members rummaged through a flame-damaged office building off of U.S. Highway 271 Wednesday, the owner of the trailer and tractor shop Coker Enterprises remained optimistic – he plans to get his business of 43 years back open for his loyal customers, he said.
Steve Coker answered a call from his alarm company at 4:10 a.m. when something triggered a motion sensor alarm at the business, located at 7106 U.S. Highway 271 North in Tyler.
While he was getting ready to go to the business, he got a call saying a passerby reported his office was on fire. Once he got to the shop, which is about six miles from his home, Coker saw about seven fire trucks responding from several area fire departments.
The office and parts room were ruined, but the shop where trailers are built, Coker says, is salvageable.
The exact cause of the fire remains undetermined, but he knows the flames started from the back and into the front.
“It’s just a terrible thing that happened,” Coker said. “We know something started it but we don’t what started it.”
Fire crews were on the scene for hours working to extinguish the flames. Lanes of highway traffic were even shut down for the safety of emergency personnel.
Coker said the family owned business constructs and repairs trailers for their customers. He said his employees often build five or six trailers at at time.
Coker said he lost all his computers and billing materials in the fire, and it could take three or four weeks before a new office is established. He noted some of the most expensive items within the business were stored in the office.
“It’ll be a while before we’re open,” he said.
While he’s disappointed to see the damages to his longtime business, Coker is working to move forward to eventually welcome customers back.
“It happened and you just have to go and start over,” he said. “I mean of course I hated it. I just wanted to salvage as much as I could.”
Coker said he’s gotten several calls from customers giving their condolences and being sympathetic. Someone even brought over eight boxes of pizzas for the employees and Coker to have lunch.
“They are very sorry this happened,” he said. “We’ve got the best customers in the world. Everybody’s been very kind and very understanding.”
Coker’s daughter Janie Pritchard and her husband, Geoff, came out to help with the cleanup efforts. When she heard what happened from her parents, Pritchard said seeing the fire and damages was unbelievable.
“I basically grew up here,” she said.
Pritchard, an adjunct math professor at Tyler Junior College, said she’ll often help her parents with the shop during school holidays.
As the business recovers, Pritchard said she’ll be helping with customers in the meantime.