City to take over fire cleanup of annex left undone by Oaklawn Inn's owner

DANVILLE — The city plans to step in and clean up the Oaklawn Inn Annex fire site and seek a portion of the property owner's insurance money to cover the cost.

"It's such an immediate need," City Attorney Dave Wesner said, adding the city has waited for a month for owner Roger Patel to remove the large pile of debris on the corner of East Main Street and National Avenue. "It's on Main Street, and it's a hazard to the health and safety of our citizens."

Patel declined to comment on why the site hasn't been cleaned up since the fire on June 2.

"I'm not ready to answer any questions now," he said Tuesday, the day city officials notified him of their intentions. "I've got to talk to my lawyer."

Under a city ordinance, a property owner is required to demolish a structure that has been heavily damaged by fire and clean up the site within 15 days. If that's not possible, the owner should at least let officials know why and when the work will be done.

Another ordinance requires that if a building has been significantly damaged by fire, the property owner's insurance company must turn over a sufficient amount of insurance money to the city.

If the owner cleans up the site, the city will return the money. If he or she doesn't, the city will do the work and use the money to cover its costs.

"This will ensure that the work gets done," Wesner said, adding the law aims to prevent owners from walking away from their responsibility and leaving taxpayers with the bill.

The two-story annex, which housed people on a long-term and short-term basis, caught fire shortly before 11 p.m. June 2. A backhoe was used to tear down walls so that firefighters could put out hot spots. By early the next morning, nothing was left but a large pile of rubble.

Public Safety Director Larry Thomason said that on and off since the fire, police have responded to calls of people trespassing on the property to try to salvage metal and other items they can then try to sell.

Wesner said city officials had some difficulty determining whether the inn was insured. Patel's attorney eventually turned over the name of an insurance company.

Patel also indicated he hired a contractor to clear away the debris, Wesner said. But, he added, it's too late now.

"Ultimately, we've already given him that chance," Wesner said. And "we're not sure if the company he's hired is familiar enough or capable to do that type of work."

Public Works Director Doug Ahrens said his staff will be able to clean up the site under the supervision of a "competent person," meaning someone who is capable of identifying existing hazards in an unsanitary, hazardous or dangerous environment and is authorized to take prompt, corrective action.

"We've done this with previous projects," he said, adding he must still determine how much the cleanup will cost, when it will begin or how long it will take.

Right now, he's still working with Ameren Illinois to make sure the annex's gas lines have been disconnected from the main line.

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