The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill.
Apr. 7—PAWNEE — The source of a fire that burned for six hours Tuesday and destroyed the Copperheads bar and the longtime Campo real-estate office was classified as undetermined but did not involve foul play, a spokesman for the Illinois fire marshal said Wednesday.
The investigation into the fire has been completed, spokesman JC Fultz said.
A “hot spot” at the site, where most of the east side of the village square was destroyed, reignited at 3 a.m. Wednesday and was successfully extinguished, according to Jeff Clarke, mayor of this southern Sangamon County village of 2,600 people.
No one was hurt in the fire, which took out six one-story, wood-and-brick buildings on the block, Pawnee volunteer firefighter Scott Day said.
Most of the buildings were 100 years old or older. Day estimated the monetary loss of the buildings and their contents at about $750,000.
“It’ll be a big hit,” Day said. “This is a go-to area.”
The fire wiped out part of the community’s history after another fire destroyed Locals restaurant on the north side of the village square in 2017, he said.
That fire was caused by an electrical problem with the building’s wiring, and Locals has since rebuilt on the same block, said Jarrad Smith, a co-owner of the bar and restaurant.
The only building spared from fire damage Tuesday was a Masonic lodge on the north end of the block. It sustained smoke damage, Day said.
The owner of Copperheads, Sarah Clipper, 34, of Palmyra, said she bought the building in January 2020 and opened the bar in June. Business was going well in recent weeks, she said.
Clipper said she was working on the outside of the building at about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday when she heard a “pop.” She opened the front door and saw smoke on the bar’s ceiling rolling out of the top of the door opening.
No one was in the building at the time, she said. Clipper said she was the first person to call emergency responders.
By the time the fire department arrived, Day said, “there were flames through the roof, and the building was fully engulfed at that time.”
About 50 firefighters worked to get the fire under control. They came from the Pawnee Volunteer Fire Department, volunteer departments in Divernon, Auburn, Girard, Riverton, Sherman, Edinburg, Kincaid, Loami, Virden and Buffalo, as well as from the Chatham and Springfield fire departments, Day said.
Pawnee ran out of water through the hydrant system after five hours, and water had to be hauled into the village to continue fighting the fire, Clarke said.
The village’s water tower, supplied by a nearby lake, is being refilled, and a boil order will be in place in Pawnee for several days as a result, he said.
The fire spread to the connected buildings to the south, which included the real estate office owned and operated by Pawnee residents Nick Campo, 66, and his son, Dominic Campo, 30. None of the buildings had a sprinkler system, Clarke said.
Nick Campo said the loss of the office he had operated for 21 years was “absolutely devastating.”
Dominic Campo said the real-estate market in the area was booming, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he didn’t blame anyone for the fire, calling it an “act of God.”
He and his father said the building was insured, and they will continue to work in Pawnee. “We’re going to rise from the ashes and come back even better,” Dominic Campo said.
Campo was on the ballot Tuesday among four candidates vying for three spots on the village board. The other three candidates were incumbents. Campo lost in his bid.
Clipper was at a loss for words Tuesday night when asked to describe her emotions as she watched firefighters continue to apply water to hot spots in the charred remnants of her business. She previously worked as a bartender in Pawnee for more than 10 years.
She said the building was insured, and she plans to rebuild. But she called her business “a dream bar.”
Asked how much money she spent to get the bar ready for opening in 2020, she responded, “too much.”
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