WATSEKA, Ill. (WCIA) – It was a start to the day no one wanted in Watseka. When people living in an apartment downtown woke up to smoke filling their rooms.
“It was difficult all around,” Nick Peters, deputy fire chief, said.
The Watseka Fire Department got the call around 5:30 in the morning. They got on scene and started trying to contain the flames, but they said it spread to the attic and the 100-year-old building wasn’t built for fire crews working side by side.
“Very few ways that we could get in and really attack this fire and get our crews in there to work,” he said.
There were several other things working against them, like the heat and the size of their crew. That’s why 17 other departments. From Kankakee to Hoopeston, showed up to help.
“We’re a volunteer department and so we’re just at the mercy of who’s available at the time of the page. So we had a good turnout for us, but with such a large building, we need a lot more help,” he said.
While firefighters were battling the blaze and the heat, business owners were rushing downtown to check on their stores.
“You always worry about people being hurt and just how much of our downtown it was going to take out, because you never know. You know it could be the one building or it can just consume so much,” Sandy Boyer, a real estate broker, said.
The fire was contained to the original building. Now, fire officials have a warning for others.
“These occupants did not have a smoke detector to alert them. So, luckily, they woke up and noticed the smoke and were all able to get out,” Peters said. “So, those are vital to have that if something happens when you’re sleeping. That can at least alert you and you can get out safely.”
Most of the other buildings and businesses only experienced smoke damage, and further down, really just the smell of smoke was lingering.
However, fire officials said Gary Cahoe’s barbershop was heavily damaged, and one firefighter went to the hospital for heat related injuries but is expected to be okay.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.