Eighteen fire departments battled a late evening fire Monday which destroyed three downtown businesses and upstairs apartments and damaged other adjoining businesses.
The Shelbyville fire department was called to Main and Morgan streets where smoke and flames rose from the brick building. Only common walls separated the businesses.
Fortunately there were no injuries and no evacuations. The only occupant of the apartments got himself out quickly when the fire started.
“When we got there, it was already out of control and spreading,” said Shelbyville fire engineer Scott McKee.
“We had to call for tankers from other departments after we drained the water tower,” said engineer William “Perk” Wilson. “We had to just drown it (the fire).”
Tankers shuttled water from the Kaskaskia River through the early morning hours. With the help of law enforcement, railroad traffic was suspended and traffic was rerouted to allow the tankers to bring water up from the river to the scene.
Destroyed were Sisters/Ahead of Style, The Style Shop, and Shelbyville Title & Abstract. Also suffering smoke and water damage were Longbranch Grill, The Iron Keg, and The Gathering Place. A fire wall apparently kept the fire from spreading to the adjoining building on the south.
“We were lucky there was a large brick section that separated the fire from the LongBranch. That’s what saved us. Otherwise we would have lost the entire block,” said McKee.
Training and practical experience played roles in fighting this kind of fire. Because of construction design of downtown business buildings, other towns have lost entire blocks in fires. That same scenario was a concern when the Moose building burned several years ago. However, no downtown buildings were affected by that fire.
“We try to preplan for an event like that,” said Shelbyville fire chief Gary Lynch. “We came in with a defensive block strategy and it paid out for us. With the training and help we had, we were able to save a quarter of downtown Shelbyville. Also the builders built one heck of a nice fire wall. That really saved the south businesses.”
The department used mostly an aerial attack on the fire and crews were maintained inside the south business buildings until the fire was out, according to Lynch.
Ambulances were called to the scene to save time in the event of an emergency. Fortunately they were not needed.
“Nobody got so much as a scratch,” Lynch said.
Firefighters were attended with food and drinks as they fought the blaze. Spectators filled the downtown area, but allowed the firefighters to do their job.
“The crowd could have been a problem if the fire had gotten out of control, but it was nice to see them out there supporting us. It was a wonderful sight to see,” McKee said.
The cause of the fire is undetermined at this time, but is not believed to be arson. The cause is under investigation and the fate of the building is also to be determined.
Firefighters returned to the station at about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.