South Jacksonville and Jacksonville Fire units responded to a fire on the former grounds of the former Jacksonville Developmental Center.
The initial call came in to dispatch at 9:20AM at the site of the old Dietary building on the southwest corner of the property. Jacksonville Fire Chief Doug Sills says that it appears to be an act of vandalism: “Basically, the old dietary building here caught fire. It looks like we’ve had some vandalism going on here. I’ve been talking with Jacksonville Police and the custodian out here. They’ve run a couple of kids off earlier this week, but it looks like someone forced entry and we’ve got a little vandalism fire in the warehouse section. The fire extended to the roof deck. It was a relatively small fire, but with such a large building, it was difficult to get to the seat of the fire. Eventually, we found it and got everything put out. Nobody was hurt. No injuries. Basically, we’re mopping it up at this point.”
Sills says some furniture, exercise pads, and other remaining items located at the back of the warehouse of the building had been set on fire.
Sills says the fire was especially difficult to put out because of a lack of a water source: “As everybody knows, JDC has been completely shut down for awhile now, so all of the fire hydrants out here don’t work. We ended up having to lay a water line in from [South] Diamond Avenue. I believe that one failed, and we had to come back in off of Michigan Avenue in order to get a water supply back into the campus. That was problematic and took some time to get established. We do have one access point to the campus here. It is a little difficult to get around to it, but [the State of Illinois] did leave us one access point open. Apparatus were able to maneuver in to basically the seat of the fire or the building that was on fire, but water supply was definitely an issue.”
Sills says evidence of copper being stripped out of buildings, squatters, and structure fires on the campus have occurred multiple times over the last several years. Sills says in the instance of fire, he knows it’s a tough issue the city’s been facing since the campus closed: “They’re vacant buildings. The only life-safety factor is our guys and maybe if we have a transient person or one of the vandals in the building that might become trapped. We make sure that we sweep the building and get everything under control, but we’re not going to risk a lot to save a little.”
This is the second major fire on the JDC Grounds since June 2020. The State of Illinois has not made any announcement of recent plans to sell the grounds or clean up the property.
South Diamond and West Michigan Avenues remain closed at this hour while crews continue mop up of the fire.