Fires in Alton damage restaurant and parsonage both hit by earlier blazes


ALTON, IL - Two unrelated fires in Alton early Tuesday heavily damaged a Golden Corral restaurant and a parsonage, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

Investigators were working Tuesday to determine what caused the fires.

The Alton Fire Department has handled nine major, unrelated fires this month, including two at the Golden Corral, on Homer Adams Parkway.

The first fire at the Golden Corral happened Dec. 2, when a commercial clothes dryer in the back of the building caught fire.

The main building suffered smoke damage in the first fire and was still undergoing restoration when a second fire was reported at 1:55 a.m. Tuesday by an Alton police officer who saw smoke coming from the building, said Assistant Fire Chief Mike Harvey.

Firefighters worked for six hours to put out fires in the ceiling and in the building's ventilation system, Harvey said.

"They were two or three days away from opening," Harvey said. "They've had crews working double-time to get the place cleaned up, and they had just moved their foodstuffs back in."

A sign outside the building said that the restaurant was set to reopen on Thursday. The Fire Department estimated damage at $750,000.

About 90 minutes after the Golden Corral call, the department received a call to the 500 block of Mitchell Street for a house that once served as a parsonage for a church next door.

The Rev. Stan Henderson of Emmanuel Baptist Church, which has leased the building from Trinity AME since February, said that Trinity has used the house for storage. But homeless people have also used the house, Henderson said.

"This may have been arson or a homeless person trying to keep warm," Henderson said. "It could have been someone trying to get some heat for the night and it just got out of control."

Fire Chief Tom Chappell said that a transient person had been in the house when a small fire started in its basement about two months ago. That fire was quickly extinguished, Chappell said.

But this time, the front of the house was already engulfed by fire when crews arrived, Harvey said. Quick thinking - and about 500 gallons of water sprayed onto the house in less than five minutes - kept the fire from spreading to the church, located only 2 feet away, Harvey said.

The church suffered only minor damage to its attic, but the house will probably have to be demolished, Chappell said.

Henderson said he hopes the fire will inspire his small congregation to raise the $100,000 needed to build a new church on Oakwood Avenue in Alton.

"We knew that the situation we are in was temporary at best," Henderson said. "It just encourages us to move faster in our building program."