Updated: After lightning strike, village hall likely a total loss
But firefighters able to save records computer, contain blaze's spread
SIDELL — Peggy and Richard Myler were working in their yard Tuesday evening in Sidell when a storm started to kick up. They saw lightning in the distance, then heard a loud clap.
The village trustee turned to her husband and said, "Something got hit."
The couple didn't think anything more of it until the phone rang a short time later. The Sidell Village Hall was in flames, the caller said.
When they arrived around 9 p.m., the northeast corner of the two-story brick building at 207 Market St. was in flames. Firefighters from at least four departments were on the scene, and village leaders and townsfolk gathered in small clusters to watch them battle the blaze.
"I thought it was a shame," said Richard Myler, a lifelong resident of the village in southern Vermilion County.
As a volunteer firefighter, he helped village officials move into the building about 40 years ago and rewire the electrical system. He also remembers going there to buy lumber years ago when it was the Sidell Lumber Yard.
Fire officials said a lightning strike caused the fire, which gutted the village hall, and ruled it an "act of God."
Firefighters got the call at 8:38 p.m. Tuesday. When they arrived, heavy smoke was coming from the two-story brick building, said Jason McDaniel, chief of the Sidell Fire & Rescue.
McDaniel said crews were able to go inside the building and locate the fire in a room on the northeast side. The room was used to store maintenance equipment and tools.
"We thought we had a pretty good jump on it," McDaniel said, adding that crews extinguished the blaze and retreated. "Then it took off again."
The chief said the fire had gotten between the building's ceiling and a drop ceiling. He said about 30 firefighters from the Allerton, Carroll, Catlin, Chrisman, Fairmount, Homer, Georgetown, Oakwood and Ridge Farm fire protection districts battled the blaze until about 1 a.m. Wednesday.
Sidell firefighters remained on the scene for another hour and a half.
The village hall is one of three adjacent buildings that date back to the early 1900s, Mayor Don Okuley said. The village hall sits on the east side, while a now-vacant beauty salon is in the middle and the post office is on the west side.
McDaniel said firefighters contained the blaze to the northeast side of the village building, but the rest of the building suffered smoke and water damage.
"We're not going to know how bad it is until the insurance adjustors arrive, but it's probably a total loss," Okuley said.
Firefighters were able to retrieve a computer that contained all of the village's records, he added.
Okuley and Debbie Lyons, who runs the post office, said they were grateful that firefighters kept the blaze from spreading to the other buildings.
"It smells like smoke," Lyons said of the post office, "but we don't have any real damage."
"We weren't really sure it wasn't going to spread," recalled Lyons, who watched the fire for a couple of hours. "It was just a huge fireball in the sky."
Okuley said the silver lining is that officials had already started construction on a new village hall several blocks away on Chicago Street in April. The project was scheduled to be completed at the end of July, although it's been delayed by the weather.
Meanwhile, Okuley said, officials will store the computer and other things at the Sidell Reporter newspaper and hold meetings at the fire station.