Suspicious Fire Destroys Historical Landmark
By: Arnold Wyrick
VERGENNES, Ill. - The year was 1915 and the Bastien Seed Company in Vergennes opened it's doors for business. Over the years, the family business became known as the place to go for cleaning farmers' alfalfa seeds and clover. But, on Wednesday morning all that history went up in flames.
"They toned us out about 7:30 this morning. We got there probably around 7:40 and flames were coming through the roof in the back of the building," said Vergennes Fire Chief Randy Mathis.
Firefighters could do little to save the old building and the town's post office.
"We did our best to knock it down. But a big building like that it was just too tough," Chief Mathis said.
So his crews did what they could to prevent the fire from spreading any further, and at times during the battle they had to distance themselves to keep safe.
"We were concerned there was a couple of propane tanks in there, and a couple of vehicles in the back. And then with it being a grainery you've always got to worry about that grain dust," Mathis said.
But, within in an hour of fighting the massive fire, the town's water system was drained and the mutual aide call went out to the surrounding fire departments.
"We have a 10-mile line that runs from the Kinkaid Water District. And after our 50,000 gallon tank went dry, we basically drained the water lines throughout the town. And we still didn't have enough water," said Rick Wisely, the water superintendent for Vergennes.
Hundreds of people gathered to watch as a piece of their town's history went up in smoke.
"It's so sad, it's a landmark. And it's one of the oldest buildings in our town. That building meant a lot to a lot of people here," said Wayne Chapman of Vergennes.
But, the Bastien family lost decades of family heirlooms and keepsakes in just a matter of minutes.
"I had an entire collection of Sports Illustrated magazines dating back in the 1950's. And we had a bunch of old toys that have been in the family since my grandfather owned the business. But, we were able to save an old brass cash register that he had bartered for at some point in time. That's the only thing we were able to save from the fire," said Dennis Bastien of Vergennes.
The loss was even more difficult for the family because fire investigators believe it was no accident. They're now looking into reports from residents living near the business who heard some teenagers playing with firecrackers in the area just a few hours before the blaze ignited.