UTICA – A large portion of the vacation homes caught fire at the Grand Bear Resort at Starved Rock in Utica on Monday evening, sending plumes of smoke into the sky visible for miles in either direction.
Utica Fire Chief Ben Brown reported that dispatchers raised the call for a fire to five alarms within 25 to 30 minutes of responding.
Brown said no injuries were reported and no evidence of arson was reported. The La Salle County State’s Attorney’s Office also said there was no conversation about arson. Brown said no known cause has been identified, although the Illinois State Marshal’s Office has been dispatched to investigate.
However, firefighters identified the source of the fire. The fire is believed to have originated on the porch of cabin 19 (the cabins are made up of four interconnecting units). The fire then quickly spread to the neighboring Hut 18.
“It went fast,” said Quentin Hull of Bloomingdale’s, who occupies a nearby villa (which does not appear to have been burned down) and has been ordered to evacuate. “It went up like that.”
The wind is pushing so much heat and embers that firefighters battled a total of five cabins, or 20 units, Brown said. Two additional mutual aid box alarm systems, one from Putnam County and one from Grundy County, were both issued, Brown said. Firefighters were spotted at the scene from as far away as Morris, Minooka, Plainfield, Braidwood, Wilmington and Newark.
As the fire entered its second hour around 7 p.m., firefighters were still trying to contain an inferno that continues to migrate due to high winds.
Several fire companies were dispatched to a section of the holiday villas located roughly southwest of the resort and conference centre. At 6:05 p.m., about 25 minutes after the emergency dispatch, the structures were still actively involved and an overhead crane was trying to put out the flames before high winds could spread the fire to nearby homes.
Matthew Kosch, vice president of Sonnenschein Groupe, which owns the stations, said he was still asking for information. Kosch noted that the affected villas are not owned or managed by the resort. They are privately owned.
As a precaution, the Grand Bear lodge and water park were evacuated, along with the occupants of the villa. Grand Bear Resort has issued a message that everyone on the property has been safely evacuated and the fire is under control. The lodge, water park and the majority of chalets and villas on site were unaffected.
This story will be updated. Stay with the NewsTribune and Shaw Local for updates.