MICHIGAN CITY — The owner of an auto repair shop was seriously hurt Thursday morning in an explosion and fire there.

Josh Towle, of LaPorte, was transported to a burn center in Fort Wayne, according to his sister, Jen Machler Morris, of LaPorte.

LaPorte County Emergency Medical Services spokesman Buddy Kasinger described Towle’s condition as critical.

He had burns to his face and hands and might have suffered some lung damage as well, Kasinger said.

Firefighters were called before 9 a.m. to Lakeside Autowerks, along U.S. 20 near Evergreen Plaza, on a report of a drum exploding and a fire.

Fire Chief Randy Novak said Towle apparently was using a welding torch on a metal drum inside a workshop at the north end of the pole structure.

Novak, along with Coolspring Township firefighter Ryan Miller, did not know what was inside the drum.

"All we know is from the initial dispatch that a drum exploded. They didn’t give us anything other than that," Miller said.

Novak said the roof above the workshop caved in as the fire spread, allowing the flames to be quickly doused with water from a ladder truck.

Drew Harris had just reported for work at Gearheads, a motorcycle repair shop next door, when he heard the explosion.

At first, he thought a motor vehicle collision had occurred on the busy four-lane highway.

"I heard a good ol' loud boom. I thought it was an accident out front, but once I saw the fire trucks and everything going and took a look out the side door, I saw quite the fire blazing," Harris said.

Miller said about half the structure was destroyed.

There was little or no damage to the remainder of the building, including the customer service area, he said.

Morris said her brother has owned the shop for just a couple of years.