Belleville fire chief Duffy Strnad was very dire in his assessment of a fire Monday night on Belleville’s south side of the downtown square.
“We could have easily lost the entire block,” he said. “If there had been any wind at all I think we would have been looking at a very different situation.”
At approximately 10 p.m. firefighters responded to a call of smoke coming from a building on the south side of the square in the 1700 block. The vacant building was more widely known as “The Century Shop” has been listed as a total loss, according to chief Strnad. He said 19 firefighters responded to the blaze.
“I was on my way back to Belleville when I got the call and could see the glow of the blaze from several miles east of town,” he said. “The first thing that went through my mind was; should I call for mutual aide now or wait. Thankfully our guys were able to handle it. If there had been any wind at all we would be looking at a totally different situation and could have lost the whole block.”
The fire chief noted that in addition the building located just to the east has also been listed as a total loss. He said both have been deemed “unsafe structures” and are not to be entered. As of Tuesday Strnad noted the State Fire Marshal has not been called in and the fire is being listed as from an unknown cause.
The building located just west to the fire-damaged structure, Bachelor-Faulkner-Dart-Surber Funeral Home was undamaged by the fire and reportedly suffered only minor smoke damage.
While no official cause has been given for the blaze, Belleville Chief of Police Chris Springer told the Telescope the building has had open access for quite some time now. He said it would have been easy for someone to gain access. No utilities were hooked up in the building.
“There are some suspicious circumstances and we have interviewed a couple of subjects but there isn’t enough there to name names.”
Chief Springer said both buildings are too structurally unstable to go inside to look further.
“We’ve got to sort through some things first,” he said. “I’m not sure if it was started accidentally or on purpose, so, for now, we will leave it as under investigation.”
Ironically, one of the worst fires in Belleville’s history was on the south side of the square, exactly 100 years ago which, according to Telescope files, “consumed several two-story buildings,” in nearly the same identical location.
As for the present condition of the buildings, Chief Strnad said in his estimation they are unsalvageable.
“But that’s just from what I see,” he said. “It’s going to be up to the city of Belleville to figure out where we go from here. But all I know is that it sure could have been a whole lot worse.”
See more photos in this week’s Telescope in print or online.