Historic Open-Air Building in Ill. Destroyed by Fire

Newlyweds Lea and Dustin Ebers, both of Red Bud, were devastated to hear the historic open-air building where their wedding took place less than three weeks ago was destroyed by fire late Wednesday night.

"It's really hard to realize that it's gone," Lea Ebers said.

The Ebers were married Oct. 13 at the main shelter building at the Fort Kaskaskia Historic Site near Ellis Grove in Randolph County.

"When we got there, the building was fully engulfed," said Michael Jackson, fire chief of Ellis Grove Fire Department.

The fire department got the call just before midnight Wednesday that the main shelter building was on fire. It took more than three hours for 18 to 20 firefighters from three departments to get the fire out, Jackson said.

In addition to Ellis Grove, the Chester and Evansville fire departments helped battle the fire.

"The community is really devastated," said Chester Wingerter, site ranger at Fort Kaskaskia Historic Site.

Wingerter said the open-air shelter building was built in 1942 with post-Depression money and is deemed a historic site.

The building itself has brought many visitors to the site, according to Wingerter. The shelter building was often used for weddings and other family gatherings.

"We have probably 20 to 25 weddings a year at that shelter," Wingerter said. "The shelter was just used tremendously."

Lea Ebers said her husband's family had reunions at the shelter every year. In addition, they would picnic there on quiet afternoons. "It sucks to realize it won't be there," she said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but Jackson said it appears to be accidental.

"It may have been accidentally started by something hot in a trash can," he said, noting the state fire marshal is investigating.

Ebers said she's saddened by how the fire apparently started. "What upsets me the most is knowing it was carelessness," she said. "Hopefully, it can be rebuilt, but I know how bad funding is for parks in the area."

Wingerter said the outpouring of support he's received from the community wanting to help rebuild the shelter has been overwhelming.

"People are already wanting to know how to donate money to help rebuild it," Wingerter said, noting he's working with the Save Illinois History foundation to see whether an account can be set up.

"We absolutely need this shelter at this site," he said. "It has a lot of historic significance to Fort Kaskaskia."

Copyright 2012 - Belleville News-Democrat

McClatchy-Tribune News Service