January 23, 2006

Galesburg's burning

UPDATE: Pictures.

Holy crap, downtown is on fire! I was just closing down for the night, letting Nutmeg out, and the sky looked funny, so I leaned out and saw huge flames leaping an undetermined distance to the south-southeast. So I grabbed my coat and camera, and ran down Cherry Street; as I got closer it was clear it was right downtown. It looks like it must've started in the antiques mall in the old OT's department store, then spread to the adjacent antique store; these fell as I got to Main. The old warehouse in back of OT's was billowing black, black smoke at this point. I kept going to Simmons, and hung a left, but cops were keeping people on the far side of that street, and with good reason, because embers were flying at least two blocks and the wind was blowing that way. Thank God there's ice and snow on all the trees, or we could have had the whole downtown on fire. As it was, we nearly lost the entire block—the wall with the lawyers' office was on fire, though I think they contained it, and despite their best efforts to keep it wet the building across the alley from the warehouse was catching fire too, though just a little and it seems they got inside, so it was probably okay. By the time I ended up back around by the warehouse, the first two floors were burning and the uppers were billowing black smoke, and as I stood there—in a parking lot a half block away, it became unbearably hot just to look at it (and this in an ambient temp of 27), and I had to back up a ways, not to mention the flying fiery chunks of stuff that were coming at us, against the wind. "Us", because quite a crowd was starting to gather at this point (thank God again that this was literally in the middle of the night, because if it weren't, they'd have serious crowd control problems, as Norm pointed out). I stood and talked to the Zephyr guys for a while as we watched the fire progress. After the back wall exploded and the righthand corner column collapsed, the fire died down a lot. Hopefully the other corner column falls inward, because otherwise it could seriously damage the building across the alley even if it otherwise escapes the fire. While we were standing there a guy with a scanner told us there were two other fires in town, one down on Grand and the other on Henderson, but we never got confirmation although we heard sirens heading towards Henderson. At this point there wasn't much left to see, so I headed home, because I had stupidly left Nutmeg outside when I left (of course, I get back and he doesn't feel the least bit cold). I had to post this right away, of course. I took over a hundred shots, and I think my camera cable is at work, and I'm seriously considering driving in right now to upload them. The Zephyr guys were taking pictures, and I saw a couple people who might have been Register-Mail photographers, but I don't know how early they got there. TKS probably didn't get any, but then they don't go to press till Wednesday so there's no rush there. Man, I'm feeling disjointed right now. Half of a square block just burned to the ground in a matter of an hour or two, and the rest of the block isn't quite out of the woods yet. Aside from the lawyers' office I already mentioned, there's a bank, the Red Cross chapter, a loan company, a few apartments, an IDOT bureau, a scrapbook store, and I think one or two other things on that block. I wonder what the city will do with the empty space now? Maybe a park... one of the people I talked to pointed out that Galesburg needs some green space downtown. I certainly hope they don't just pave it into more parking lots.

Posted by blahedo at 4:12am on 23 Jan 2006
Wow. I am hoping to visit the Burg sometime next month--I guess downtown will look rather different. Was everyone ok, at least? (You mentioned a couple of apartments.) Posted by Chris T. at 10:57am on 23 Jan 2006
This is not the first fire in that building in the last week (at least it sounds like the same building). Last Saturday morning 3 kids under 14 set an accidental fire that spread throughout the first floor, and the smoke was so bad that they had to smash the windows to ventilate up to the third floor. It was an antiques warehouse, I hope after the first fire they got all of their inventory out. Posted by Heather at 11:33am on 23 Jan 2006
The two buildings that burnt down this morning were connected, and the rear one is the one where the fire was last week. Today's started in the front one, though, and spread to the back one. I'm sure they'll investigate carefully on the cause of the fire...

No casualties, at least. And it appears that aside from the two destroyed buildings, fire damage was limited, although a collapsing wall took out the back end of the building with the frame store and the scrapbooking store. Dunno how much damage there was there, but a woman I talked to this morning who was the neighbour of the frame store owner said that they'd been able to get a lot of inventory out in the early stages of the fire before they had to evac the building entirely.

Posted by blahedo at 5:50pm on 23 Jan 2006
This reminds me of a fire that happened when I was a freshman in high school. A hardware store that was two blocks from my high school burned to the ground - granted, the high school was separated from downtown by the Fox River. The entire building collapsed, and the buildings on the rest of the block were a total loss because of the smoke and water damage. The city's now trying to build a civic center/hotel/underground parking garage on the site. That's terrible for the Burg - they don't need any more trouble. Posted by Megan at 1:12pm on 24 Jan 2006
Wow...thanks for the pictures Don, I'd been trying to picture the area all day, and although sad, these give me a much better picture of what all happened. Way to be a citizen journalist. Posted by Dan M. at 11:12pm on 24 Jan 2006
Wow! The quality of the pictures really speaks as to how bad the fire actually was. Shawn and I were in Galesburg and saw the aftermath. I really hope you guys get downtown up and about soon! Posted by Elvin at 5:45pm on 27 Jan 2006
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