Judy Grimes sat and cried as she watched her restaurant, Chicago’s Best, burn on the afternoon of Aug. 25 at 95 N. Second St.
“I cried for nine hours,” Grimes said. “I couldn’t do anything else.”
On the day of the fire, two employees, who were opening the restaurant, called Grimes, a co-owner of Chicago’s Best, notifying her of an alarming “campfire” smell saturating the first floor, according to Grimes. After identifying the smell as coming from a fire on the second floor, the employees called the Platteville Fire Department at 10:08 a.m.
Fire Chief David Izzard was the first on the scene and called for the trucks.
“It seems like an eternity when you’re there watching the fire, but it was within minutes that we had men and trucks on the scene,” Izzard said.
Upon their arrival, it took Izzard only a moment to know the fire was more than the department could handle.
“At 10:18 we placed a call to Cuba City asking for mutual aid,” said Izzard. “We had 38 men at the fire, but we were still going to need help.”
Mutual aid is a service where fire departments from neighboring towns send six to 12 firefighters in response to a fire burning in another town.
At 10:46 yet another department was asked for mutual aid and four more were contacted by 11:30 In all, more than 85 firefighters responded.
“It was a very hot and intense fire,” Izzard said. “It was an unbelievably challenging fire to battle.”
Izzard said that due to the renovations the building had undergone since it was built in the late 1800s, voids between walls created odd air pockets for the fire to thrive.
“(The owners) weren’t wrong for renovating it that way,” said Izzard. “It just made fighting the fire all the much harder.”
The fire burned so hot and for so long that the roof and flooring of the third story apartments began to collapse. Izzard called for an evacuation.
“The men were told to leave their equipment and get out of the building immediately,” Izzard said. “We can replace an ax or a hose, but we can’t replace a life.”
It was at that time that Izzard decided to implement a “surround and drown,” a technique that involves spraying the building and windows with water until the fire is subdued.
“It’s not a desirable tactic,” Izzard said. “But at that point being inside the building was so dangerous that we were left with no other choice.”
Nine hours later the fire was extinguished. What remained were 12 homeless students, 85 exhausted firemen, and the smoking husk of a once prominent business, soaked in 700,000 gallons of water.
The cause of the fire could not be determined, said Izzard.
The students have since found new homes outside of campus and various pieces of furniture, several appliances, and even handmade quilts have been provided for the students, due in part to efforts of Interim Assistant Chancellor of Student Affairs Joanne Wilson and her staff.
“I just got on the phone and called everyone in my (quilting) group,” said Wilson. “We were able to supply 15 quilts for those students who needed it.”
But Wilson and her staff were not the only ones who aided the displaced students.
Wilson said that businesses like Kmart, Walmart and Badger Bros. supplied the students with gift cards, the Red Cross paid for two students to spend three nights in the Motel 8, and Dining Services provided $100 in meal plans for all 12 students.
“It was great to have everyone come together and help those students,” Wilson said. “Especially considering they still had to start school in a week.”
Grimes said she had been looking forward to the start of the new school year.
“The business had already had a rough summer with all of the construction,” Grimes said. “But thank God no one was hurt. That’s the most important thing.”
Grimes said she hopes to rebuild the popular student hangout, but the structural integrity of the building is still in question.