Vienna City Fire Chief Aaron Goldenstein said the last time the city experienced a fire the size of Monday’s was more than 60 years ago; he would be happy if it was another 60 or more before the next.
Fire departments from Vienna, Goreville, Buncombe, New Burnside, Carrier Mills and Lake of Egypt responded Monday morning to a fire that consumed a historic building on the southwest corner of the courthouse square in downtown Vienna.
The fire was reported at approximately 9:55 a.m. with the first trucks on the scene by 10:03 and the others arriving shortly there after.
The cause of the fire is likely to be undetermined, said Goldenstein, because the structure was a total loss. The two-story building, owned by Boo Smith and built in the early 1900s, contained apartments upstairs and downstairs. One occupant who was home at the time of the fire escaped without injuries.
“Luckily no one was injured and our crews were able to prevent any further fires from spreading,” said Goldenstein, complimenting the response and teamwork of Johnson County’s fire departments.
Goldenstein said Johnson County fire departments regularly assist each other when needed and with Monday’s fire everything worked out well. Assistant Fire Chief Scott Wright was acting fire chief on the scene as Goldenstein was unavailable when the fire broke out. At one point in the fire the city’s water pressure lowered as more than 150,000 gallons of water were needed to extinguish the flames while as many as six tanker trucks could be seen traveling to and from the scene dumping water into a portable pumping reservoir stationed on the east entrance of the square.
“A lot of these older buildings in downtown Vienna are very dry and once a building like that gets rolling [with fire], the heat gets so high it will blow out the windows,” said Goldenstein, commenting on the flames that shot out the front of the building. Most of the building’s structure collapsed on itself with its remains expected to be razed sometime Wednesday.
The fire displaced two families who are currently staying at the Limited Inn in Vienna next to McDonalds and Limited Inn manager Coleena Osborn said the families have vouchers through the Red Cross and Shawnee Development Council to stay until the following Tuesday.
“They are both pretty devastated by the fire,” said Osborn, adding that the Limited Inn is allowing people to drop off clothing and other donations. “They are very concerned about placement; where they will live next.”
Osborn said for those who might wish to help pay for the families to stay longer at the Inn may do so by calling the front desk at 618-658-6300.
Johnson County Red Cross coordinator for fires, Robin Harper-Whitehead, said donations are also being accepted at Banterra Bank in downtown Vienna.
“The Red Cross is going to help as much as they can,” said Harper-Whitehead. “Both families have received vouchers and supplies, such as toiletries, to help get them started, but they lost everything in the fire and are going to need others to pitch in.”
Vienna Mayor Jon Simmons said he was thankful no one was injured and joined Vienna Fire Chief Goldenstein in thanking Johnson County’s fire departments for responding to the call.
Residents in Vienna have witnessed the building’s various uses throughout the years as it has served as a post office, a pool hall, an attorney’s office, an auto parts store and an insurance office before recently being converted into an apartment building.
Longtime Vienna resident Rosemary Orr said she remembered it as a post office when she was a child in the early 1930s and Johnson County Sheriff Elry Faulkner said he remembered it as a pool hall when he was a boy.