Eagle Creek burn dates scheduled

The Eagle Creek Resort on Lake Shelbyville near Findlay, which has been dormant for 10 years, will be used for fire training in August, then destroyed and leveled off. - File photo

The Eagle Creek Resort at Lake Shelbyville is tentatively scheduled to be burned down in August during training exercises for at least nine area fire departments. The plan awaits official approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"I'm told that's all we need now and we're hoping to do it next month," said Tim Schweizer, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Eagle Creek Resort was shut down several years ago and every attempt to revive it by selling it to developers has failed. A plan has now been submitted to the Corps of Engineers for approval: Three days of live fire training on Saturday, Aug. 17, Saturday, Aug. 24, and Sunday, Aug. 25, according to the Illinois Fire Safety Institute out of Champaign.

"The goal is to provide good training for local departments." said Tim Meister, a Charleston Fire Department captain and Field Instructor for the Illinois Fire Service Institute. "It will start on Aug. 17 with live fire training at Eagle's Nest. We also have 10 rooms in the hotel we will burn. It's a little bit of both. Training will also take place on Aug. 24. On August 25, Eagle's Nest should be burned down. Any part of the resort could be used for some training that day, then it will be burned down."

Eagle's Nest is a separate building from the hotel. The fire training does not involve lighting the entire hotel on fire and putting it out, but using individual rooms for training.

"The Illinois Fire Service Institute instructors will light one room at a time," Meister said. "Evolution after evolution (firefighter squads) will come in for live fire training and put the fire out. We light another fire in that room and will continue in that room as long as it is safe, then move to another room. We will try to make it as close as possible to a real house fire."

Meister said it is not safe to burn the entire hotel and send the firefighters in to try to put it out.

"This is a controlled burn," Meister said. "We pray for no fire to spread, because we want this as safe as possible. The logistics on the outside will be the same as a hotel fire, but we can't do that at an acquired location. We can do that at the training site in Champaign, because we have buildings specifically for multiple fire training. But that is a more controlled environment."

Meister said that he knew of eight or nine fire departments that were going to be involved in the training. Meister said that once the training is over, the local sponsoring fire department, the Findlay Fire Department, will have the responsibility to burn the rest of the structure. That is set to happen on the last day, Sunday, Aug. 25.

Findlay Fire Chief Ed Voltenburg said that the area fire departments that have been invited and have responded are: Findlay, Shelbyville, Windsor, Assumption, Moweaqua, Herrick, Arthur, Lovington, Tower Hill and Strasburg. Sullivan declined and Cowden was contacted, but Voltenburg has not heard from them, yet.

Because Eagle Creek is in the Findlay Fire District, they are the sponsoring department for the drills.

"The IDNR contacted the Illinois Fire Service Institute and Tim contacted me," Voltenburg said. "He got all the paperwork together and I signed all the permits."

Chief Voltenburg said that they have done a few burns, but nothing to this size and this takes quite a lot of help.

Unfortunately for curious onlookers, the Eagle Creek Resort & Golf Course will be closed during the burns.

"The site will be closed to the public," Meister said. "The golf course will be closed. I don't think the Eagle Creek Boat Ramp will be closed, but that could change. We don't want any fire apparatus or debris flying around and injuring the public."

With 8-10 fire departments coming in and out of the site and running water shuttles, traffic will be heavy just for the fire training. There is at least one fishing tournament scheduled from Eagle Creek Boat Ramp during the burns and Rachel Torbert, Deputy Director/Assistant Chief of Staff for Communications at Illinois Department of Natural Resources commented on the arrangements.

"The conservation police will be on the water and around the perimeter to make sure the public is safe," Torbert said. "Some of the plans will be day-to-day. A lot of this (dates, training) will depend on the weather, too."

"There should be no problem with activity on the lake," Schweizer said. "We haven't heard that there will be any interruptions (except the golf course). I imagine there will be provisions made to keep people on the lake back from the shoreline near Eagle Creek. It's good to let people know when the training will take place, so when they see smoke they won't worry."

The plan from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, who leases the land for the resort from the US Army Corps of Engineers at Lake Shelbyville, is then to have a contracted company come in and haul off the debris, clean up the area and give potential investors a blank canvass to create a new development.

Eagle Creek Resort closed in 2009 due to financial turmoil and mold infestation, costing the area tourism dollars and jobs. Because the resort rarely had 50 percent occupancy when it was open, officials one time suggested that a new one be built at a smaller scale.

The state's long-running budget impasse and a short-handed IDNR staff have slowed the redevelopment movement. Since it closed in 2009, the building has been vacant.

Only one proposal for re-development was submitted to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in the spring of 2018, said Andrew Hansen, a media representative for the Illinois Senate Republican Caucus. That proposal didn't get IDNR's approval.

The effort this past year came with a $500,000 backing from the state, according to the office of State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet. The money could be used for demolition, construction, or reconstruction costs.

Dave Cruitt, Shelby County Board Chairman, announced in the spring that he and County Board Vice-Chairman Bruce Cannon met with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources about Eagle Creek.

He said IDNR wanted to demolish the buildings, Eagles Nest and the hotel, by burning them down. The golf course would not be affected.

"The idea is that most developers would prefer to come in and start from scratch," Cruitt said.

Cruitt says the area has been missing out on the development of the property for the past 10 years.

"We'll have a fresh footprint, where it can become a destination point, again," Cruitt said. "It would be a similar format as before, but just on a smaller scale to get tourism and tax dollars. In the summer there are limited places to stay around the lake."

John Curtis can be reached at john.curtis@shelbyvilledailyunion.com

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