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John Deere fire leaves memories in flames and urgent work to do

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HIGGINSVILLE, Mo. -- A fire in Lafayette County destroyed a business with roots that date back to the early 1900’s. The fire happened late Thursday night and Leslie Smith knew something was wrong around 9:30.

“My windows were rattling and it kept happening and I thought, you know, somebody was breaking into the house,” Smith said.

But the sounds came from the John Deere dealership right down the street from her house. Smith and her family owned the business for more than a century before selling it 11 years ago.

“I watched the fire go up through my father's office, my grandfather's office and my uncle's office, and I saw all of that go up in flames last night,” Smith said.

Flames gutted the business overnight and it took Higginsville firefighters nearly seven hours to contain the blaze. This dealership sold and serviced equipment for farmers living in Lafayette County.

“We were very fortunate. The fire department helped us a lot last night to get a lot of the equipment pulled out from the building,” general manager Jeff Oldham said.

The 25 employees who used to work at the dealership have been relocated to five other John Deere dealerships in Missouri. Although the fire destroyed the building, the business is resilient. Oldham said he hopes to be able to sell equipment parts out of the only building still standing as early as Monday.

“This is a really critical time, we're really close to planting so we're going to try to get our customers taken care of, and so what equipment is ready to go, we're moving,” Oldham said.

While investigators assessed the damage, Smith took her own pictures to document the aftermath.

“John Deere is to us like Missouri Tigers are and Kansas City Chiefs. And when we see green and yellow, it means a lot because we're just really proud of this business,” she said.

Missouri State Fire Marshals, Higginsville police and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms are investigating the fire. They don't know yet how the fire started.

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