Springfield Fire Department authorities say that everyone they know about has been accounted for in one of the largest structure fires in Springfield seen since 1979.
The Springfield Fire Department was alerted to heavy fire at 815 North 11th Street in Springfield at about 4:45AM on Christmas Eve. The site was the former home of the International Shoe Company and a Goodwill Outlet store before going vacant in 2013.
Springfield Fire Chief Brandon Blough says that his department spent most of Monday going through rubble in search of any possible human remains: “We did a lot of excavation. We had some heavy equipment brought in on Christmas Eve. The public works did a great job of getting that out there so that we could do some rudimentary search. We did have 3 people during the fire that had been staying in the building that came out and told us that they thought there were some individuals inside. We took that information to our investigators to track those people down. They gave us 8 or 9 names of people who may have been inside.”
WMAY in Springfield reported yesterday that two people that had gone unaccounted for from that 9-person list had finally been found safe. The Springfield Fire Department is still working to bring in a cadaver dog team from the Metro East area to search the debris for signs of any possible victims. Blough says that due to the condition of the building and the size of the fire upon arrival, firefighters were unable to do search and rescue inside the building at the time.
Firefighters faced multiple challenges in battling the blaze on Christmas Eve, including extreme cold and simply the size of the structure, which covered nearly a full city block. Blough says this was a once-in-a-generation fire: “This building was over 40,000 square feet. It was an entire short block from 10th Street to 11th Street, so you’re talking about a big area. We hope that this is a once-in-a-generation fire because they are not something that is easy on our fire department, especially in the conditions that we were dealing with. We have one 33-year veteran that sits on the fire department still with us and he said that in his time that this fire was both the coldest and the largest fire that he’s seen since the 1980s.”
Blough says the handful of firefighters who received frostbite from the fire fight on Christmas Eve are expected to make a full recovery.
According to Blough, based on the building’s size, the city’s biggest fire was the blaze the destroyed the Weaver Manufacturing Company in the 2200 block of South 9th Street in 1979, a fire that Blough’s father was called to at the time.
A cause of the Christmas Eve fire has yet to be determined and remains under investigation. Blough says its reasonable that one of the people who were sheltering in the building were attempting to keep warm in the frigid temperatures and a fire got out of control in the process.
The fire has roiled some Springfield officials. WMAY reports that Springfield Airport Authority chair Frank Vala, who has clashed with Mayor Jim Langfelder in the past, issued an open letter this week questioning why Langfelder didn’t do more to secure the property and relocate squatters before the fire. Springfield City officials say it’s not possible to police every vacant building, and note that some people simply won’t make use of available shelter services. WMAY says that the Heartland Continuum of Care plans a presentation to the City Council next week on its five-year plan to address homelessness in the community in hopes of preventing a similar situation in the future.