The Illinois State Fire Marshal has been called in to help the Chester Fire Department determine the cause of a fire that destroyed a house at 218 Oak Terrace in the early morning hours April 2.
The house, which was unoccupied, burned so hot that the entire upper level of the house fell into the basement, according to Chester Fire Chief Marty Bert.
"It was a 7000-square-foot house and all of it fell into the basement," he said.
The house is owned by Don and Dixie Brockmeyer, who, according to Bert, were preparing it to be sold.
"There were still some items in the house, but no one was living there," Bert said.
Bert said they don't know what started the fire.
"For such big fires, we aren't really equipped to make such causal decisions, so we call in the state fire marshal," he said. The state fire marshal arrived Wednesday morning.
A neighbor, Bobby Schroeder, was awake at 12:49 a.m. Tuesday.
"I noticed the glow out of my window and saw the blaze burning through the roof," he said. He called 911 and within minutes the Chester Fire Department arrived.
"It got out of hand really fast," Schroeder added. "I'm glad that I was awake."
When firefighters arrived, Bert said, the fire was already out of control. The right side of the house had been apparently burning for some time, and the roof was ablaze.
He called for backup from Ellis Grove, Steeleville, Sparta and Perryville. Ellis Grove sent eight men and a pumper truck and a tanker; Steeleville sent two men and a tanker; Sparta sent a tanker truck with six men, and Perryville sent two men and a tanker.
Chester had a dozen firefighters on the scene throughout the night and almost every piece of CFD's equipment was in use. Bert said, "We used five tanker trucks and approximately 35-40 men on this fire."
When this writer arrived at approximately 1:10 a.m. the fire was already into the middle of the house and was still rapidly spreading.
It took approximately 20-30 minutes for all of the assistance to arrive on scene. Until help arrived Chester firefighters battled the hot, rapidly spreading blaze by themselves.
As assistance arrived, tankers took turns going to a nearby water hydrant near Route 3 and the Chester Grade School.
"I just couldn't get enough water fast enough," firefighter Charlie Bargman said. "That intense flame took a lot of water and we kept busy making runs to nearby hydrants."
One by one neighbors began to wake up to the noise of pumpers working, trucks arriving and leaving on water runs and the sounds of the battle.
Chester police and Randolph County sheriff's deputies were on hand, as were several rescue units and ambulances.
Chief Bert and his men were on the scene all night. As the sun started to rise. he and most of his men went back to the fire house to clean some equipment and get food and rest.
"We finally took a brief break at about daybreak," Bert said. "We knew there were still hot spots that would be tended to in the morning, but we intended to return after breakfast and a bit of rest."
But at 6:08 a.m., police were making a check of the scene and saw some active fire, so they called in another fire call. And back the firefighters went.