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Downtown landmark catches fire

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Some 30 firefighters were called to the long vacant Heritage House after a Kenosha Fire Department commander happening by Friday afternoon noted smoke pouring from the upper floor windows.

The red brick building at 5706 Eighth Ave., formerly known as the Elks Club, was unoccupied and no injuries were reported to any civilians or firefighters, Kenosha Fire Chief John Thomsen said. He added Pat Ryan, chief of the fire prevention division, was driving by and called in the fire at 3:06 p.m.

No flames were visible outside the landmark building, and Thomsen said it appeared to be confined mainly to space between supporting timbers and multiple layers of flooring on the second floor. The fire appeared to be snuffed by 5:30 p.m., but Thomsen said it was difficult to make that determination. Firefighters remained on scene working to create a trench type opening in the flooring to be sure the fire was stopped from spreading and ultimately put out.

Complexities in the building construction and remodeling over the years created challenges warranting numerous ladder trucks, engine trucks and other equipment being called to the fire. In addition, several paramedic units remained at the site on standby for several hours. Kenosha issued a Mutual Aid Box Alarm System alert, and departments from South Shore, Pleasant Prairie, Salem and Bristol responded with personnel and equipment.

“It’s a difficult one because of the expansive spaces, the ballroom, a lot of false walls, high (two-story) ceilings,” Thomsen said while handling and monitoring fire communications at the scene.

The multiple layers of carpet, oak, maple, plywood and other materials increased the difficulty of cutting away parts of flooring that needing to be removed for firefighters to gain access to the burn area, according to Thomsen. He said crews were forced to hand cut the floor, making for slow, labor-intensive work.

Thomsen said investigation into the cause wouldn’t begin until fire officials were certain the fire was doused completely.

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