MATTOON -- Owner Harold Shores had just left work for the day Thursday evening at Shores Jewelry when a friend called to tell him there were reports on the emergency scanner of smoke coming from his downtown building.
Shores said his first action was to call his son and grandson, who resided in apartments above the store.
"I said, 'Get everyone out. Get out of the building," Shores said of his property at 1614 Broadway Ave.
While watching flames consume his building later that evening, Shores said he was glad to report that his family members and the other residents of apartments in his building and adjacent buildings were all able to safely evacuate.
"As bad as it is, at least everyone is safe," Shores said, adding that he was not able to retrieve any items from his jewelry store before it was destroyed.
Mattoon Fire Department was called to the scene at 5:40 p.m. They arrived to find smoke coming from the roof of the building. As the night wore on, calls went out to neighboring departments to provide manpower and tanker trucks.
Crews reported having the fire under control by 9 p.m., but were still on the scene at press time.
Early details shared
During a press conference later Thursday night at City Hall, officials commended Shores for being more concerned about the safety of others than his store and building. His father founded the jewelry store downtown in 1948 and the store moved in 1985 to its current location.
Shift Capt. Robert Alexander said firefighters initially found a smoky haze on the first two floors but had trouble finding an access point for the third floor, where they believe the fire started, without using the elevator.
Alexander said they accessed the third floor with Shores' help but could not find a good line of attack in this smoke-filled space, which contained construction materials and stored items.
"We were then able to take a defensive approach and stop the fire from spreading to the buildings adjacent," said interim Fire Chief Kris Phipps during the press conference. He said they contained the fire, but the adjacent buildings on the east and west suffered smoke and water damage.
Phipps said no injuries were reported among those in the affected buildings or the firefighters. He said firefighters will likely be on scene throughout the night putting out "hot spots" within the Shores building.
He said the Lincoln Fire Protection District helped haul water to the scene from other lines in Mattoon so firefighters would not put an extra strain the lines downtown.
The Illinois State Fire Marshal's Office will assist with efforts to determine the cause of the fire, Phipps said. Rubble will likely need to be removed from the site before the investigation can be conducted effectively, he said.
City Administrator Kyle Gill said the section of Broadway in front of the Shores building will likely be closed for some time due to concerns about the front of this building collapsing. He said businesses adjacent to the Shores building and directly across the street will be temporarily closed.
Personnel from several area fire departments assisted the Mattoon firefighters at the scene. Many community volunteers turned out to bring bottled water and food to the firefighters.
"Mattoon is a community that when there is a disaster like this, they all join together," said Mayor Tim Gover.
Crissy Paige, who had lived for four years in an apartment above Shores Jewelry, said she learned about the fire when she was at a friend's house and her daughter called to see if she was all right. Paige then rushed to the scene, where she saw smoke and flames billowing from the building.
"Praise God I wasn't here. I just showed up here and all of my things are gone," Paige said of the apartment that she and her husband, Doug, shared. "Pray for us. We have lost everything except for the clothes I have on my back. We have lost it all."
Paige said their lost possessions included World War II photos and medals that had belonged to her husband's grandfather. Paige said she and her husband chose to live in an older building in Mattoon's downtown business district because they are history buffs. She said they remained there for four years because Shores is a good landlord and an "awesome guy."
Harley Powley, who has lived for six years above the adjacent Luigi's building at 1610 Broadway, said she was shopping when her husband, Austin, called to say their building was being evacuated. She said her husband rushed to the scene to retrieve their 4-year-old pug dog, Hank, from the apartment.
"My husband ran upstairs and got him. He works at nearby at K.C. Summers, so he was just a phone call away," Powley said, adding that Hank was shaken but was otherwise all right.
Powley and other residents of apartments in the 1600 block of Broadway gathered in the adjacent Mattoon Area Family YMCA parking lot Friday evening and anxiously watched as the fire threatened other downtown buildings.
Anxious business owners
The War Zone game store co-owner Jarrick Honn said he was playing a card game at his adjacent shop, 1622 Broadway, with some of his customers when they saw smoke coming from the vicinity of the Shores Building and were told by police to evacuate. Honn said the police gave him time to retrieve his work computer and essential papers.
Honn said he was confident that firefighters would keep the flames from spreading west to his shop, but worried that water from the fire houses would reach his stock of cards and hobby items.
"I have a card and hobby store. The moment that water pours onto my building, everything is gone," Honn said.
Lisa Hubbartt, co-owner of Hubbartt's Downtown Diner, said she closed earlier in the afternoon but returned to her restaurant at 1626 Broadway Ave. as soon as she heard about the fire. She said police officers let her go into the building to retrieve essential items before the structure was closed as a precaution.
As she watched fire destroy the nearby Shores Jewelry building, Hubbartt said is a great loss to a longtime downtown shop and to the close knit community of businesses there.
"It's just so sad because all of us downtown people stick together and work together," Hubbartt said.
Melissa Burton-Sanders, who used to own the two buildings west of Shores Jewelry, was among those watching the fire Thursday evening. Burton-Sanders said she has worked in this block downtown over the years and family members have lived there.
"I have known Harold Shores my whole life. He is family. Everyone down here is family," Hubbart said. "It's heart breaking."
'This is huge'
Joe Jenkins, 50, lives in Mattoon on the 1300 block of Lafayette about five blocks away. He said it was one of the bigger fires he remembers occurring in the city. When he initially smelled the smoke, he thought it was coming from his building, "as strong as it was."
Janet Clark, a close friend of the Shores family, was visibly upset as she searched for them amid the confusion. "I want to see them. I know they are terribly upset," she said. "I don't have any idea what he'll do. It won't destroy him, but it's a horrible, horrible loss." She called Harold Shores a "survivor."
Dave Schilling, a former Mattoon City Council member who has lived in Mattoon 47 years, remembers other big fires in the city, but none like this. "This is just huge," he said. "I've never seen it this bad."