DECATUR – Rolling black smoke filled the sky and fire poured through every window of the older brick warehouse at North Illinois Street and East Grand Avenue on Wednesday in the biggest fire that Decatur has seen in quite some time.
The Aaction Equipment building, three stories high in places, was a total loss. Decatur Fire Department officials said chances of determining the cause of the blaze were dim because of the extensive damage. The building had already largely collapsed by 7 p.m., and firefighters expected to be on the scene throughout the night.
Most of Decatur's trucks and firefighters were on the scene, with reserve units called in and assistance from Hickory Point, Mount Zion and Warrensburg's departments.
The first call came in the early afternoon between 2:30 and 3 p.m. Neighbors on the corner of Illinois and Locust streets said they noticed smoke about 2 p.m. and shortly afterward, flames began pouring through the windows.
“It's been burning a long time,” said Steve Bates, who watched from his porch with friends and said he was afraid for his own home. “My landlord's my best friend, and I called him, but he hasn't gotten off work yet.”
Cornelius Jones, who also lives nearby and was watching with Bates, said his landlord Robert Powell also owns the warehouse.
“He has his office in the front, and he uses (the building) for storage,” Jones said. “He's got a whole bunch of furniture in there, tools, everything he has for his houses and stuff he owns.”
Bates said he was impressed with the courage of the firefighters, especially one on the top of a ladder truck very close to the flames with a hose. Other firefighters were spraying the houses directly across the street from the warehouse to keep those houses from catching fire from the showers of sparks and licking flames that poured from the engulfed warehouse.
Firefighters attempting to suppress the blaze early were later removed from the building as it became obvious the structure was not going to survive, and the rolling fight continued from outside. Firefighters were constantly deployed to new areas as the fire spread from floor to floor and into new sections of the building.
No injuries were reported as of early Wednesday night.
Streets surrounding the scene were closed for several blocks and flames were visible from downtown Decatur.