“I was walking downtown when I heard something that sounded like an explosion. When I turned around I saw a big fireball and a lot of smoke,” said Diane Schutt, who witnessed the start of a fire in downtown Fairbury Friday afternoon—a fire that knocked out power to several businesses.
According to Jim Morehead, Electric Line Superintendent for Fairbury Light and Water, a bird caused a transformer in the alleyway between Fifth and Sixth Streets to short out, starting a fire on the structure that held the transformers.
Fairbury City Fire Chief Steve Zimmerman stated that a quick response time from firefighters and emergency personnel prevented the fire from spreading to a nearby business.
“There was some exposure to the building, but the department was able to get it knocked down before it got too far along,” Zimmerman said. “People heard the explosion, saw the smoke and started responding before it even got paged out. We had an excellent response time.”
Agencies that responded to the fire include Fairbury Light and Water, Fairbury City Fire Department, Fairbury Rural Fire Department, Rescue 17, the Fairbury Police Department, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the Jefferson County Ambulance.
Zimmerman stated that once Fairbury Light and Water cut the power to the lines, firefighters were able to contain the blaze, which he believes caused a minimal amount of damage.
“We have to wait and let Light and Water evaluate the situation because with electrical fires, we don’t want to start spraying until it’s clear,” said Zimmerman. “We had lots of smoke in one of the buildings, so we had to clear the building and check if there was any heat built up in the building. We couldn’t have asked for a better response or better control of the scene. Damage was pretty minimal. We did have a little water damage in one of the buildings that we cleaned up right away. One of the windows charred pretty good, but it was mostly on the outside of the building.”
The amount of spectators at the blaze concerned Zimmerman. He asks that people give first responders the space they need to do their job effectively and to prevent anyone from being injured.
“We had a lot of spectators at the scene,” Zimmerman said. “I hope we weren’t rude, but we had to do our job and we didn’t know the extent of the fire. We wanted to clear the area. When you’re dealing with electricity and oil and the transformers, that’s a dangerous combination. We want to keep people safe.”
(Photos Contributed By Diane Schutt)