Arson Suspected in Fire Station Blaze
By: Carly O'Keefe
DIXON SPRINGS, Ill. - Rural Pope County Fire Protection District volunteer firefighters have responded to many different types of calls throughout the years, but the announcement they received over their emergency radios early Wednesday morning is certainly one they never expected to hear. One of only four fire stations in the county was fully engulfed in flames.
"Before anyone seen it, it was fully engulfed. There wasn't much to save," said Fire Chief Vincent Baker.
Wednesday afternoon, Baker searched through the charred wreckage hoping to find something his firefighters could still use. He didn't find much. Twisted metal and trucks gutted by flames are about all what's left of the largest fire station in Pope County.
"We housed two engines, a tanker, a brush truck, a rescue truck and this is where we do all of our training," said Baker. "These were the best trucks we had."
Now that station one is out of business, the nearest fire station to Dixon Springs is 11 miles away.
"Naturally, it'll cause the fire response time to go up, which is pretty critical in being able to control a fire. So it's going to hurt the people," Baker said.
Folks who live near the station know they're a lot less safe now than they were on Tuesday, before the fire.
"If my house caught fire, I'd just have to stand back and watch it," said neighbor Butch Ethridge. "It'd take them 20 minutes to get here from Golconda once they got the call."
Chief Baker said response time increases would be bad news even if the firehouse had burnt by accident, but in this case it's even worse because the Illinois State Fire Marshal's Office suspects arson.
A blue Honda four-wheeler used for fighting grass fires is missing. It didn't burn with the other fire fighting vehicles. It was kept in the back of the pickup truck used to fight brush fires. When firefighters arrived, they discovered the brush truck had been pulled out of the station just enough to get the four-wheeler out. Now police believe whoever has that four-wheeler is also responsible for setting the fire.
The Illinois State Fire Marshal's Office is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of whoever set fire to station one. Pope County has added an additional adding $1,000 to the reward.