CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — The Illinois-Nebraska football game Friday night will kickoff as scheduled with no impact to the teams or fans, after a Tuesday night fire at Memorial Stadium.
Crews were called to the scene about 8 p.m. to find a utility vehicle and lawnmower on fire underneath the horseshoe on the southwest side of the stadium. Groundskeeping equipment is routinely stored there for the facility and surrounding areas.
A third-party structural engineering firm was at Memorial Stadium on Wednesday, clearing the facility for use on Friday, according to a release from the university. The Department of Intercollegiate Athletics says it will continue to monitor the impacted area and is in the process of remediating smoke damage.
Illinois head coach Bret Bielema was in his office at the Smith Center watching special teams film when his wife texted him about a possible fire in the area.
“I looked out my window and said, ‘There ain’t nothing going on here, I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Then literally a minute later Mark Taurisani, our chief of staff comes running in as Josh (Whitman) was calling me, he was in Indy for some NCAA meetings.
“I’m like what’s going on? And I looked out and saw those fire trucks. So thank you to everybody who responded last night. I think it was just one vehicle that caught on fire that was amongst a bunch of others. So everything is good to go, everything will happen on Friday.”
The fire was quickly extinguished, after a second alarm was called due to the size of Memorial Stadium. Randy Smith, Public Information Officer for the Champaign Fire Department, said the fire likely started with a UTV. One firefighter was taken to the hospital for injuries, but Smith said the injuries are minor.
Illinois hosts Nebraska Friday night at 7 p.m. on FS1. Both teams are 2-3 overall this season and 0-2 in Big Ten play.