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Sterling Heights — Firefighters from nearly a dozen surrounding communities battled a massive fire at a well-known Macomb County car dealership in Sterling Heights on Tuesday night.

The blaze at Buff Whelan Chevrolet on Van Dyke, between 17 Mile and 18 Mile, raged for more than an hour and may have started when cleaning crews were scrubbing floors at the dealership, fire officials said, but the cause was under investigation.

The fire started around 7:30 p.m., Sterling Heights police Officer Heartsmith said.

A cleaning crew with several workers was inside the business after-hours when a floor scrubber somehow came into contact with flammable material in the service department and ignited flames, Sterling Heights Fire Chief Chris Martin said.

From there, a blaze "spread fast" throughout the building, he said, adding that at least 50 cars and the body shop were affected.

Crews including those from Clinton and Shelby townships helped city firefighters helped put out the four-alarm blaze, which heavily damaged the service area. The crews and public works trucks blocked off the front of the car lot late Tuesday as water was doused on the building’s smoldering back portion.

Dozens of onlookers lined Van Dyke near the dealership and storefronts across from the car lot late Tuesday to watch as flames leaped into the air and thick smoke swirled over the lot. Some people snapped photographs on their cellphones.

Among them was Dale Stern of Warren, who heard about the fire from a friend and rushed to the scene. He was shocked to see a longstanding business affected.

“They’ve been here probably 20 years — longer than that,” he said.

Some residents remained at the site after 11 p.m.

Don Rogers learned about the blaze from news reports and wanted to see whether it affected another dealership where he bought a Jeep in the last two years.

"I'm sure people who bought cars here hate to see this," he said while standing on the median across from the dealership.

Despite the damage, staffers planned to work with city officials to reopen early Wednesday, Martin said.

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