Firefighters Battle Warehouse Fire In East St. Louis

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EAST ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)--A stubborn fire in East St. Louis tied up resources and billowed black smoke for hours Friday, leaving firefighters frustrated both with the fire itself, and the fact that it involved an abandoned building.  

Officials say it was about 2:30 when the fire broke out in the vacant warehouse at the corner of 9th and Lynch.  The smoke was visible from several miles away for much of the afternoon.

The building is known to long time residents as the old Holt Meat Packing plant. It became a furniture warehouse later and has been abandoned for several years.  But inside, furniture, mattresses, and seat cushions were left behind providing a seemingly endless supply of fuel.

“There’s a heavy fire load,” East St. Louis Assistant Fire Chief Derrick Burns said.  “It looks like there are several couches, mattresses, living room furnishings.  There’s quite a bit of fire load so that’s why it’s generating so much smoke.”

But there was another problem that was equally troubling.  The fact that the fire, like so many others in East St. Louis this year, is suspicious.  It will come as a surprise to know one if arson is ultimately determined to be the cause.   

“Our numbers of fires are up considerably and a number of them are suspicious in nature,” Burns said.  “It’s very frustrating.  These are dangerous fires and every time someone starts one of these fires, a felony has been committed.  It’s not a laughing matter, it’s a serious matter, and our guys are in harm’s way every time we have one of these.”

Red Cross workers, who assist at many of these fire scenes, say it’s tough to watch on a number of fronts.

“It’s sad to see the neighborhoods like this where the buildings go up and to have things like this happen in the city” Red Cross volunteer Craig Fleming said.  

After the fire burned for more than six hours, firefighters began just trying to contain it, but at the same time, were apparently content to let it burn itself out.  

“It’s a very dangerous situation for our guys,” Burns said.