Wisdom > Faith

When my wheel store went up in flames

Wheel Gallery co-owner shares how he survived the tragedy

The Wheel Gallery fire in December 2013 gutted the entire shop. PHOTO FROM SAM LIUSON

What do you do when the business that you’ve worked so hard on, suddenly goes up in flames? When tragedy strikes at your doorstep, how do you respond? How can you get back up when you feel so helpless, and you don’t know what to do?

Let me share with you my story.

On the morning of December 13, 2013, I attended a meeting at the San Juan City Hall about the planned road-widening project along Santolan Road. All affected business establishments, including our Wheel Gallery building, would be demolished to get an added 1.5m to 3m for the road expansion.

This wasn’t good news for the business. This meant interruption of normal operations—and definitely additional funding for the rebuilding of our office.

After the meeting, I just went back to the office and proceeded like it was any other business day.

At about 1:30pm, fire broke out at our wheel-and-tire shop. Fire extinguishers were used, but to no avail. Fire and smoke spread uncontrollably from a busted acetylene tank hose as I watched in horror. I immediately told one of my staff members to call the fire department, and ordered an evacuation of our people and the vehicles in the shop. As I saw the fire blazing out of control, I could only utter: “Help me, Lord!”

Imagine seeing your precious business going up in black smoke. PHOTOS FROM SAM LIUSON

While evacuating the people and the cars, I saw my staffer again in the melee and asked if he had been able to contact the firemen. He said that he was unable to reach them, so I made calls to my wife and other friends to ask for help and prayers. At that point, I knew that only God could help us.

Then help came. Fire trucks started to arrive. Local government leaders were there to assist and supervise. My wife showed up, and she was there to comfort me. The police chief came to supervise our surroundings and guard against possible looting. The whole street in front of us was red with fire trucks from all over Metro Manila—as far as my eyes could see. I personally didn’t know these people, but I believe that they were sent by God.

A few of my employees were crying. I watched in utter helplessness and despair as the establishment we had worked so hard to build in the past 11 years burned. The pungent smell of burning rubber, the blaring sirens, the sight of the thick black smoke billowing from our shop—name it. And then, out of nowhere, a total stranger tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at the shop. “Papalitan ng Diyos ’yan,” he told me. Stunned with the statement, I looked at him and replied, “Ano?” He repeated, “Yung nasusunog, papalitan ng Diyos yan.” I asked him who he was, and he said that he was just passing by. Then he walked away.

I followed the guy and insisted to ask who he was. He then asked me who I was. When I told him that I was one of the owners of the business, he was visibly shocked. And he went on his way. At that point, although I couldn’t believe what I had just heard, my heart was suddenly at peace. I realized that the message could only have come from God.

Just like that and all your hard work is gone. Or so you think. PHOTOS FROM SAM LIUSON

Soon after, at about 4:30pm, the fire chief, with his face all wet and covered with black soot, approached us and said, “Kontrolado na namin ang apoy.” While most of our stocks got burned, miraculously the computers that contained all of our records were still intact. The greater miracle was that no one got hurt, even the neighbors residing behind our shop.

Three days after the fire, I went back to the shop not knowing how to pick up the pieces. With the impending demolition for the road-widening project, and then the fire disaster, I thought that I would not be going back to that office. I just surrendered everything to God.

As we were cleaning up, two welders, with shoulders drooped and eyes looking downcast, mustered up enough courage to come up to me to say sorry for inadvertently burning the whole shop down. They apologized and said it wasn’t their intention to do it. I told them, “Okay lang, aksidente yan.” What they didn’t know was that I never blamed them for what had happened.

We later found out that the residents who lived at the nearby condominiums saw the fire from our shop, and they called the fire department and volunteers right away. Apparently, while we were not able to contact the firemen, someone else had called them for us.

This is a gut-wrenching sight for petrolheads (especially for Concept One fans). PHOTO FROM SAM LIUSON

By January 2014, we renovated the showroom and reopened by the third week of the same month. We were able to resume operations even though the back area of our shop still needed a lot of work.

As the months passed, it was a big blessing that we got paid by the insurance company, and so we started planning the design of the new building. As we were rebuilding the back area, our contractor found out that the foundation of the building was not deep enough to provide a strong support for the current structure. God allowed us to discover a crucial foundational flaw, which we wouldn’t have found out if not for the fire.

The complete restoration of the building took four years. It was longer than expected, but it was done in phases so as not to disrupt the normal operations of the shop. Also, with the change of administration in our local government, the intended road-widening project was ultimately discarded.

I attended a Bible study and came across a stirring passage. During that time, I didn’t really understand it, but I kept it in my mind and heart. It says:

So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; and My people shall never be put to shame. Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the Lord your God and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame. (Joel 2:25-27)

What I learned: Peace comes from surrendering to God, His blessings come in different forms, and He will see you through it all

Looking back, I realize that the stranger meant the same message as the above Bible verses. And I never thought that I would have my personal experience of talking to God’s messenger. I can confidently say that God delivered us from the fire and restored what we had lost.

Let me share with you three things I learned from this tragedy:

1. Peace comes from surrendering to God. Whatever was going to happen from that point on, I surrendered everything to God. And when He sent that stranger who reminded me that He would replace everything, I immediately had peace in my heart.

2. Blessings come in different forms. Because of the fire, we needed to renovate. Because of the renovation, we also found out that we needed to strengthen the foundation of our building. We ended up with a new building—and more space, too!

3. God will see you through it all. I am still grateful to this day that no one got hurt during that unfortunate event. And I can say that God provided for everything that we needed. Not only did He provide the resources necessary for us to rebuild, but He also provided family and friends who journeyed with us as we went through that ordeal.

The current Wheel Gallery shop is far nicer and better than the one that got burned. PHOTO FROM SAM LIUSON

I’m sharing this story to let you know that things happen for a reason. Sometimes, we are already satisfied with what we have. And sometimes, God can take it away to give us something better. We don’t understand the process, but God’s hand is always behind it.

When tragedy strikes, you can only find indescribable peace knowing that you have a heavenly Father watching over you. We are still in this pandemic, and you may be going through fire and water in your life right now. Look up. Your journey isn’t over yet. If you have Jesus Christ in your life, you can rest assured that He has the best plans for your life whatever comes your way.

Sam Liuson

Sam is the president and CEO of Wheel Gallery, an aftermarket shop that sells Concept One and Black Rhino alloy wheels, among others. He leads a Bible study group that includes fellow businessmen in the motoring community.