By MATT HOPF
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
The Newcomb Hotel was destroyed in a devastating five-alarm fire Friday night. Firefighers were expected to remain at the scene through the morning.
Flames shot out of the roof, and firefighters were pulled back in case of collapse.
The fire was discovered by a passing motorist, Stephanie Jackson of Concord, Ill., about 8:40 p.m. She and her passengers were driving down Fourth Street from their hotel when they heard popping sounds, saw flames and called 911.
Firefighters initially entered the building to extinguish a fire on the second floor on the west side of the former hotel, which opened in March 1888. However, they were unable to contain the blaze.
At 9 p.m. firefighters were battling heavy flames in the three-story addition on the east side that partially collapsed during an April storm. Eventually flames overtook the main building, as well.
Firefighters were seen scrambling around the building to get water on the three-story addition, but they were unsuccessful in keeping the flames contained.
Fourth Street was closed from York to Hampshire Street. All traffic coming from Missouri into Quincy on U.S. 24 was diverted south to York and on to Fifth Street. Maine Street also was closed from Third to Fifth Street. It is not known how long the streets will be closed.
There were dozens of bricks that had fallen from the building strewn across Fourth Street.
The city appeared to have turned a corner on the long-vacant building.
Last week, the city agreed to enter negotiations with an Iowa developer to potentially renovate the building into market-rate apartments. The city was also trying to foreclose on the property, which is owned by Skokie developer Victor Horowitz after he failed to pay off a $500,000 loan he received from the city in 2003.
"I'm nauseous," said Travis Brown, executive director of the Historic Quincy Business District, who stood at Fourth and Maine looking at the burning building. "This is the closest we've come in the five years I've been here. We finally get to enter negotiations with a legitimate developer who is eager to do the building, and right before we start the negotiations, you see flames coming out the side of it."
Brown said a crane likely will be brought in Saturday to help with an external evaluation of the building.
"We're going to try to get a grasp on what needs to happen next," Brown said.
Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore, who also arrived at the scene as the building burned, said it was a sad day for the city.
"We're very lucky that we have the firefighters on the scene to respond very early, but right now, it looks like it is a total loss," Moore said.
A new conference is planned Saturday morning to provide more information.
"We need to regroup in the morning and talk to (the Illinois Department of Transportation) about street closures," Moore said. "We also need to talk about how we're going to determine if the building is structurally sound. We need to make sure it is safe for people in the area."
Michael Seaver, director of inspections for the city, said city officials will have to check the building Saturday morning, but the walls of the hotel have lost lateral stability.
Quincy Fire Chief Joe Henning told reporters about 10:30 p.m. that the Newcomb "is gone." He told reporters at about 11:40 p.m. that the fire was under control.
Henning said about 30 firefighters were battling the fire and most were expected to be on the scene throughout the night.
He said firefighters' biggest concern as the hotel burned was keeping the flames out of the Gardner Museum on the west side of Fourth Street. He said crews were on the roof of the Lincoln-Douglas Apartment building at the northwest corner of Fourth and Maine, keeping an eye on that building, as well. Residents of the apartments were evacuated to the Quincy Senior and Family Resource Center, 639 York.
Firefighters initially entered the building but were evacuated almost immediately when firefighters in a second truck saw fire coming out of the south side of the building.
"This is one of those buildings we don't take risks in," Henning said.
The fire was concentrated on the southeast corner of the building initially, he said.
"We were trying to keep it contained to that area, but there was just too much there," Henning said.
Quincy firefighters brought in two aerial trucks to battle the fire as more of the building collapsed.
At 9:34 p.m., firefighters said they were worried that the chimney on the building addition was going to collapse.
Sgt. Bryan Dusch with the Quincy Police Department said seven patrol officers were called in to help control the crowd. Hundreds of people lined the streets surrounding the hotel and were in Washington Park, as well. Dusch said onlookers were well-behaved. No arrests were made.
Herald-Whig Staff Writer Don O'Brien contributed to this story.