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Cost of cleaning up fire damage in White Hall, may fall on the city

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WHITE HALL, IL (KTVI) - Downtown White Hall, Illinois opened back up for business Wednesday after a fire wiped out three historic buildings on Tuesday.

White Hall Fire Chief Gary Sheppard labeled it as likely the biggest fire in the town's history.

The city hired a clean-up crew and they were on the scene all day Wednesday beginning to clear debris.

In downtown White Hall, Christina Cathers owns a gym too doors down from the flattened buildings.

After she got a phone call Tuesday morning, Cathers made the 25-mile trip from Jacksonville to White Hall, seeing smoke in the sky the entire way.

"[It was] really hard not to cry," Cathers said. "I got down here and at that point it just became surreal, almost-mind numbing, not knowing what was going to happen."

After a sleepless night Tuesday, Cathers spoke to the fire chief and state fire marshal Wednesday morning.

They had checked her building, and the only marks the fire had left were some puddles of water, the smell of smoke and some roof damage.

"It was structurally sound, the integrity of the structure is still great," Cathers said. "[They] said we could come in in about an hour and get our utilities turned back on and start the clean-up process."

The gas got turned back on Wednesday morning and businesses opened up as usual downtown after about 100 area firefighters fought the fire Tuesday overnight into Wednesday.

The fire marshal came into White Hall Wednesday to look for any suspicious activity, but Sheppard is almost certain the incident was an accident.

Sheppard said a resident of one of the apartments had plugged in several electric heaters and heard a popping noise.

"He actually found some fire in the attic, in fact quite a bit of fire," Sheppard said. "He attempted to put it out himself using a fire extinguisher. He burnt the back of his neck, trying to do that. And by then, it was too late."

That resident did not have insurance, so the chief has told the mayor the city will likely have to foot most of the clean-up bill.

"The cost of that is going to be tremendous, I wouldn't doubt if it would be in the six figures," Sheppard said. "So it's going to be a burden on the city of White Hall."

While clean-up will be costly, Cathers said it could have been much worse.

"Our fire department and the surrounding fire departments, still trying to figure out a way to thank them for saving our business," Cathers said.

Smoke was still billowing out of the structures Wednesday afternoon, and the chief said it could be like that for a few more weeks.