Firefighters from four counties battle blaze that claims Valley City landmark

Posted: Mar. 20, 2014 11:00 pm Updated: Apr. 3, 2014 11:15 pm
Herald-Whig Staff Writer

VALLEY CITY, Ill. — Valley City lost a landmark in a Thursday night fire.

The factory building at the former Tate Cheese plant was a total loss, but firefighters from four counties were able to keep the fire from spreading to other buildings nearby, including the former office building just 10 to 15 feet away and the former cheese store.

“All the structures around were saved, but we had to let the big one go,” Griggsville Fire Chief Larry Bradshaw said. “It’s quite a change to the landscape down here for sure.”

Brian Bradshaw owns the former cheese plant site. The two-story factory building with a full basement had been vacant for several years, and workers recently had been in the building doing salvage work.

“It was in the process of coming down anyway,” Bradshaw said.

Firefighters were called to the scene at 7:41 p.m. and “knew out of the gate we would take defensive measures. There wouldn’t be any crews going inside,” Bradshaw said. “We really weren’t spraying a lot of water on it. We were spraying water on the other buildings and just cooling the fire down that was facing those buildings until the fire burned down enough so the buildings were safe.”

The Griggsville, North Pike and Pittsfield fire departments provided plenty of manpower to battle the blaze, but the biggest concern was the water supply.

“We had to haul water,” Bradshaw said. “If we had been in an area with a water source, it wouldn’t have been quite so bad.”

No cause has been determined for the blaze.

“Calling the fire marshal in to look at a building in the basement would have been fruitless, but I will talk to the owner and see if I can get with the contracting company to try to pin down what the cause was,” Bradshaw said.

While crews worked to contain the structure fire, the fire spread to a field on the south side of the building and threatened to head into the hills.

“We sent a couple crews on ATVs who got it cut off in time,” Bradshaw said. “I was afraid we would wrap up one fire and start up on another that would be a lot uglier. It would be hard going through the river bluff hills.”

Bradshaw said 11 departments helped fight the fire, most strictly to haul water.

All the Pike County departments were involved along with departments from Mount Sterling and Versailles in Brown County, Arenzville and Meredosia in Morgan County and North Scott from Scott County.

“It’s fully involved right now, and it’s a pretty big building,” reported David Greenwood, Pike County’s EMS director, who was helping to direct traffic near the scene of the fire shortly after 9 p.m. Thursday.

Crews were on the scene until around 11:30 p.m.

No one was injured in the blaze, “which is why I could say it was a success,” Bradshaw said. “There was nothing in there to risk anybody’s life for.”

Tate Cheese at one point was one of Pike County’s largest employers. However, after more than 25 years in operation, the plant was shut down in June 1999 after the business was sold to Schreiber Foods Inc. of Green Bay, Wis., putting 75 people out of work. The plant has gone pretty much unused ever since, despite efforts by Pike County officials to try to find a new tenant.

Some information for this story was provided by Herald-Whig Staff Writer Edward Husar.