PLATTEVILLE — One of the oldest buildings in downtown Platteville was gutted by fire Saturday, closing a business and leaving a dozen people without homes.
The fire at 95 N. Second St. required 85 firefighters from seven fire departments working in shifts for 10 hours to extinguish the fire. Platteville firefighters had to return Saturday around 10 p.m., 12 hours after they first were called, and again Monday morning to deal with hot spots.
One firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion and one for steam burns during the fire. Platteville police and employees of Chicago’s Best Restaurant evacuated the 14 tenants from nine apartments on the building’s second and third floors. Platteville firefighters rescued a dog and cat from two apartments.
The building is owned by Randy and Judy Grimes of Dickeyville, who operated Chicago’s Best on the first floor. The restaurant had 12 employees.
A decision is expected this week by fire officials and the Grimes’ insurance company on whether the building will have to be torn down. The state fire marshal’s office was investigating the fire Monday. The first floor had smoke and water damage, whereas the second and third floors had fire, smoke and water damage.
“My intentions are to open the place where we sit,” said Randy Grimes Tuesday morning. “That building is an old building. The first level took a lot of water.”
As of Tuesday, Second Street was blocked off between East Main Street and East Mineral Street, and East Mineral Street was closed between Second Street and Oak Street. Second Street had opened one week earlier after the summer-long reconstruction project.
Several Second Street businesses — the Owl Café, The Camaraderie, School Girlz, the Badger Bar and Orville T’s — were closed Monday.
The Owl Café building at 80 N. Second St. received water damage from the roof after firefighters put holes in the roof for hose clamps. The Owl was open for business Tuesday.
Meanwhile, downhill from the fire scene, much of Water Street’s gravel had eroded from the estimated more than 700,000 gallons of water used to fight the fire.
“The contractor will clean it up,” said Director of Public Works Howard Crofoot. “There’s shingles intermixed with the gravel and other debris. They have to remove the debris and then put the gravel back in. Most of it is still in the street.”
Crofoot does not expect a significant delay in Water Street reconstruction.
Platteville firefighters arrived Saturday at 10:05 a.m. to find heavy smoke coming from a second-floor window on the southwest side of the building, according to a Fire Department news release.
Firefighters were working on the fire inside when portions of the roof began to collapse, forcing an emergency evacuation of Platteville and Cuba City firefighters inside the building. The fire then spread through the roof in the southern part of the building to the third story on the north side of the building.
“It’s kind of challenging,” said Fire Chief Dave Izzard. “When you have an older building, and it changes owners and they renovate it a little bit … years later they might do another one, it makes it very difficult.”
The building had multiple ceilings, which meant that the fire “got itself from one airspace into another airspace,” he said. “It seemed like we were playing catch up on the thing.”
Besides the Platteville Fire Department, the Belmont, Cuba City, Dickeyville, Lancaster, Livingston–Clifton and Potosi fire departments assisted in fighting the fire. The Platteville, Cuba City and Lancaster EMS assisted at the scene, as did the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System Division 108 Rehab Unit, the city Water and Sewer and Streets departments, and Rural Excavating. The American Red Cross provided clothing, food and shelter for the displaced renters.
A number of businesses in the neighborhood donated water and food for emergency personnel.
“I’m so damn proud of the community with the public responding like they did with food and water and organizations asking what do you need,” said Izzard. “It’s just overwhelming.”
The building was the Stage Coach Inn Hotel in 1878, according to Chicago’s Best’s website. It operated as the City Hotel until 1976, with another business, Delores’, on the south end of the building. One of the hotel’s employees was Randy Grimes’ grandmother.
Randy Grimes’ brother, Ted, purchased it and opened Ted’s Place in 1977. Randy Grimes began working at Ted’s the first day it opened, July 2, 1977. He purchased the business in February 1986 and changed it to Windsor Food & Spirits.
Randy and Judy Grimes opened Chicago’s Best in February 2007.
“I’ve been going in that place for 35 years through the front door,” said Randy. “It’s not a fun situation, but I’m keeping a positive attitude with it; that’s what you have to do.
“I appreciate everything and everybody’s coming and looking and giving their condolences. I think the best way to return the favor is to open the place back up again.”
Photos by Ann Rupp, Jason Nihles, David Timmerman, Kathy Woolford, John Burchett, Kathleen Kluth and Steve Prestegard.