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Fire destroys vacant building; gas leak may be to blame

Latest: 4:06 pm URBANA -- Fire destroyed a building on the UI campus.
Latest: 4:06 pm
URBANA -- Fire destroyed a building on the UI campus. Now investigators are trying to find out how it started. Crews say there was a natural gas leak at the vacant building. It's on the corner of University and Harvey. WCIA-3's Anna Carrera finds out why it had to be torn down.

There's not much left. The fire burned most of what used to be an employee services building. Whatever was left, university leaders had torn down. The Fire Marshal says they wanted to make sure it wasn't a safety hazard.

"Having a natural gas leak is not uncommon. However, it's not everyday we have a building actually explode from it."

But, that's what happened about 6 am Tuesday. First responders say multiple people called 911 when they saw the fire.

"That's the reason the guys are here. They train every day. They do all they can in case something like this does happen, they respond in the right fashion."

No one was hurt, but firefighters realized there was a natural gas leak inside the vacant building. They had to wait for crews to close it off before continuing their work.

"As far as what actually caused it to ignite, we don't know. That's what the investigation is going to try to conclude."

Glass and other debris was strewn across sidewalks and nearby parking lots. The man who owns two buildings next door say she couldn't believe his eyes.

"My heart sunk. My wife came into the bedroom and said, 'you need to turn on the news and look at this.' This could have been a lot bigger if the fire department hadn't come over."

These bits and pieces are all that's left now, but firefighters say they should have what they need to figure out what happened.

"They have the video footage, pictures, things like that and samples, so they're going to do what they can to finish the investigation."

The Fire Marshal didn't want to speculate about the cause or if foul play was involved. He says they'll wait and see what the investigation shows when it's done.
Latest: 12:30 pm
URBANA -- Crews spent Tuesday morning working to stop the flames and clear the area. WCIA-3's Jillian Deam has more from the scene.

Large flames and flashing lights. Smoke filled the air before the sun rose on University Avenue.

"We looked at it. My heart sunk."

Jim Gunther owns the two apartment buildings next door and was relieved to see the fire didn't spread.

"Everybody is safe. Everything is good. No damage to the buildings."

"Natural gas leaks happen sometimes."

While crews say a natural gas leak is common, they say this outcome is not; where an explosion happens causing a building to collapse.

"It's not everyday we have a building actually explode from it. It's always a possibility, but this is not the most common thing we deal with."

But, crews dealt with the flames and the cold and kept the fire contained.

"This could have been a lot bigger. Thank goodness for the fire department and the police department. They got here in time."

Keeping the rest of the area safe. The Urbana Fire Marshal is asking anyone who saw the explosion to call the fire department.

Urbana Fire Department
(217) 384 - 2445
Update: 10:31 am
URBANA -- Crews responded to fire in a vacant building on the corner of University and Harvey just after 6 am Tuesday. UI owns the building which is the former Employee Services Building.

Authorities say it looks like a natural gas leak caused an explosion then fire. Crews battled flames for hours before Ameren's crew could safely shut off the gas. The building was destroyed and collapsed.

Fire officials ask anyone who may have witnessed the explosion to contact them.

Urbana Fire Department
(217) 384 - 2445
Original: 8:07 am
URBANA -- Fire destroyed a building early Tuesday morning. The building is near the intersection of University and Harvey.

Authorities say the fire was caused by a natural gas leak. Witnesses say they heard an explosion before the fire started.

No one was inside the fire when it started. Emergency crews are directing traffic away from the area.
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