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By Carmen Ensinger
If at first you don’t succeed – try, try again, which is exactly what vandals did at the Greene County Almshouse Wednesday night, Aug. 17, when they successfully burned the historic structure to the ground.
It was the second time in less than two weeks that the Carrollton Fire Department was called to the structure for a suspicious fire. The first time was during the early morning hours of Monday, Aug. 8.
This first fire was contained to the second floor, the point of origin. With no utilities to the building, it was suspected to be suspicious in nature.
The second call, nine days later, however, would prove to be much more challenging. In fact, it was a lost cause from the very beginning.
Carrollton Fire Chief Tim Thaxton said his department received the call at approximately 9:37 p.m.
“A neighbor down the road called it in saying she saw a glow,” Thaxton said. “By the time we got out there, the structure was fully involved, the roof had caved in and the flames were shooting 40 foot in the air. There was no saving it this time.”
A mutual aid call automatically goes out on all fire calls, but Thaxton said once he got on the scene, he called off the neighboring fire departments. Carrollton Fire Protection District also includes Kane and Eldred, who have their own fire trucks and pumpers.
“With Kane and Eldred there, and the fact that we were not going to make entry into the building, I decided to call off our mutual aid units that were coming,” Thaxton said. “Plus, there were no other structures around except a grain bin that was about 80 to 90 yards away. There was a little bit of grass around the outside of the structure burning that was our main concern.”
The only injuries sustained were to the bean field, located near the structure.
“We were more concerned about the bean field located to the south of the structure than anything else,” Thaxton said. “The heat from the fire actually scorched some of the beans, so they will die from the heat.”
No firemen were injured during the blaze. They were on the scene for approximately four hours. Thaxton said they pumped over $40,000 gallons of water on the fire.
Since there are no fire hydrants in such a rural location, this meant numerous trips back to Carrollton to fill the pumper and tender trucks.
“Our pumpers hold 1,000 gallons, but our tender trucks hold 3,000 gallons each, so we were constantly hauling water from town and dumping it in our pools,” Thaxton said. “This allowed us to keep a constant stream of water on the structure.”
With no electricity, gas or any other source that could attribute to the starting of a fire at the structure, the State Fire Marshal was on the scene Thursday.
“A neighbor said she noticed a vehicle earlier in the day but couldn’t really give us any information about it other than she noticed a vehicle, which is a common occurrence out there,” Thaxton said. “Vehicles out there are a common occurrence, but now we have an arson investigation. The State Fire Marshal, however, has started an investigation on it. Where that will lead with what we have…we are not real optimistic at the present.”
Two Rivers Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for any information leading to the arrest of the individual or individuals involved in the fire. Anyone with information about the fires is being asked to call the Greene County Sheriff’s Department at 217-942-6901.
Tips can be submitted anonymously by going to tworiverscrimestoppers.org or calling 800-300-2590. Tips that lead to an arrest could be eligible for a cash payout.