FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - Gary Graham fell in love with fireworks when he was only fiveyears old.
"What's not to love? You have color and noise. What more couldyou ask for. Sky painting is what I call it," Graham said.
Ten years ago, Graham, now 30 years old, turned hispassion into a business and opened Pyromaniac Fireworks inWaynedale. Seven years ago the store moved to Old Trail Road.
"This is my life's work. We worked hard to have a greatinventory in the perfect location," he said.
Then Wednesday, the unthinkable happened when his store went upin flames. Graham, who is the assistant coach for the Komets, wasat practice when the fire started around 10 a.m. The team trainercame running out on the ice saying Graham had an emergency phonecall.
"At first I was concerned about my family and then he said thestore was burning down and my heart dropped," Graham said. "It feltlike I was losing a loved one."
The store was packed full of fireworks. A new shipment of 120cases had just arrived in time for New Year sales.
"We always do good New Years business because we're one of thefew places open," Graham said. "If the fire had happened a fewweeks ago we wouldn't have lost as much money and it wouldn't havebeen as bad."
The store's insurance company won't cover the $50,000 ofinventory. Graham said he's already had a lot of his wholesalersand other fireworks businesses calling to offer support andencouragement.
"We all have a passion for fireworks and do it for the samereason. To see that happen, you wouldn't wish that on anycompetitor or anybody. The outpouring of support is really helpingme," he said.
Graham is also thankful for the well-wishes from people inWaynedale.
"Waynedale has been great to my family and my business," hesaid. "I'm really sorry they had to go through something that wasprobably scary for them, so I thank the Wayndale community and thegreat people out here."
He's also thanking the fire department for keeping the fire fromjumping to surrounding businesses.
"When a fireworks store goes, it goes the whole thing. Thefirefighters can only go on the defensive. They can't go in andsalvage anything. They have to be safe and that's not a safeplace to go into," Graham said.
But not being able to put the fire out from inside also meansthe investigators won't be able to figure out the cause of thefire.
"There wasn't much left to investigate as far as material. Theydid the best they could and did interviews and got as muchinformation as possible," Fort Wayne Fire Department Chief PeteKelly said.
The investigators did rule out arson, which is comforting toGraham, but he still wishes he could know what sparked thefire.
"It would help me sleep better at night," Graham said. "We don'tdo anything different. Everything is the same and it bothers me tothink this could happen on the inside."
An employee was in the store Tuesday and closed at 8 p.m. Hesaid nothing looked out of the ordinary when he left.
In June, Pyromaniac Fireworks passed the fire departmentinspection with no violations. The store didn't have a sprinklersystem, but didn't have to according to state law.
The law states stores with more than 500 pounds of fireworkshave to have a sprinkler system. Stores with less than 500 poundsdon't. Kelly said the law was enacted a few years ago and storesolder than the law were grandfathered in and didn't have to add asprinkler system.
Graham wasn't sure how many pounds he had Thursday, but he wasnot required to have a sprinkler system. In his new location,however, whether he's required to or not, he plans to installone.
"It's a tough way to start a new year, but you have to beoptimistic," he said. "Everything happens for a reason. I keeptelling myself that and we were successful out here in Waynedalebecause of our attitude and as long as we keep that business modelthe same, we'll be successful anywhere we go."
Graham doesn't know where he'll reopen, but said it won't be inthe same spot. He's already received some calls from possibletenants. He hopes to be open by Memorial Day.
"It won't be the same. It won't be the Old Trail Road store welove so much, but we'll make a new home somewhere else," Grahamsaid.
In the meantime, he still has his love for "sky painting" andplans to set off fireworks to ring in what he hopes will be a newyear of new beginnings.
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