Two people Springfield fire officials learned were unaccounted for after a massive fire at the former Land of Lincoln Goodwill facility broke out on Christmas Eve were located and talked to by investigators Tuesday.
As many as a dozen people may have been sheltering in the building in the 800 block of North 11th Street, those same fire officials said. The building was last used as a Goodwill outlet store in 2013.
The two people believed to be in the building were interviewed Tuesday morning. The two had been out of town because of the Christmas holiday and had just arrived back in Springfield, said Springfield Fire Marshal Ed Canny Jr.
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A cadaver dog from the McLean County Emergency Management Agency will be brought in later this week to go through the building as a precaution, Canny said. Other dogs also may be brought to the scene.
Saturday’s fire, said SFD Chief Brandon Blough, was the biggest in the city since the blaze at the former Weaver Manufacturing plant in the 2200 block of South Ninth Street in 1979 based on the size of the building.
As late as Monday, Blough said firefighters were still addressing a section of roofing at the 11th Street site that had particularly been difficult to reach with water, he said.
Firefighters on Saturday managed to protect a large, adjoining building from being burned. That building was attached but separated from the part that burned by an internal breezeway and courtyard, Blough said.
About 40,000 square feet of the structure was lost to the fire, Blough said.
Canny said investigators in the aftermath of the fire talked to Julie Benson, who operates Helping the Homeless, and a number of people inside the building at the time of the fire. Lists of names were compiled, and investigators followed up on those people to make sure they were accounted for, Canny said.
Blough said neighbors said it was common knowledge that people were staying in the building.
“It happens all the time that people will do what they need to do to stay warm when it gets really cold like this,” said Blough of Saturday’s subzero temperatures. “There’s definitely a correlation between structure fires and cold snaps in Springfield. The danger I worry about is not only for the people involved, but for our folks. (Unsheltered people are) in areas that are possibly unstable (structurally). They’re in places that don’t have any fire or smoke detection or sprinklers in place to help keep them safe and then we have to send our folks to these buildings to try to save these people possibly.
“When it’s a case of people knowing that addresses are open to trespass, this is the potential of (what happened Saturday). It’s kind of a lesson learned that we need to make sure we’re getting folks who are homeless to places that are safe at night instead of dealing with a system like this. Some of the citizens in Springfield and some of the organizations in place do a really good job as far as trying to help folks who are homeless, but when it gets really cold like this, people will do what they have to do.
“When we know there are people living in places not meant to be lived in, contacting the city and letting us know so we can get them the resources they need (is the best outcome so we) can head off something like this again.”
Some unstable areas were knocked down by an excavator Saturday, Blough said. The area is fenced off and parts of the building are boarded up.
About 100 firefighters were on the scene at any one time, Blough said. Crews had to address another structure fire in the 1200 block of English Avenue later Saturday morning.
Blough said there were a couple cases of frostbite reported by firefighters, but no serious injuries otherwise.
According to SangamonLink, the plant was built in the late 19th century originally as the Springfield Furniture Co. It became a shoe factory and eventually the International Shoe Co. in 1910. The shoe factory reached peak employment of 650 people in 1930.
Goodwill Industries bought the factory complex after the International Shoe Co. shuttered in 1964 and operated the outlet store there until 2013.
Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.