Cause of market fire still unknown; multiple issues found by inspectors

News-DemocratJune 17, 2014 

— The cause of the fire that gutted Main Street Market Monday night has not been determined.

However, electrical work was being done at the historic grocery store in west Belleville.

Bob Sabo with the city of Belleville said a permit was issued for electrical work at Main Street Market Monday morning. Sabo is director of the city's Health, Housing and Building Department.

"We had a list of code violations, things that needed to be updated," Sabo said Tuesday.

The electric work was being done by Edwardsville Electric, according to Sabo.

A man who answered the business phone number of Edwardsville Electric said, "It started in a place we weren't working in. I don't think we had anything to do with the fire." The man refused to provide his name.

Sabo said Edwardsville Electric completed some work Monday at Main Street Market and asked a city inspector to come out.

A city electrical inspector visited the store at 1:15 p.m. Monday, according to Sabo, and found the electrician had adequately repaired the wiring above the drop ceiling in the main room of the grocery store to bring it up to code.

However, other electrical violations had yet to be addressed, according to Sabo. He said the business had until June 30 to correct all violations and pass a re-inspection.

The city permitted Main Street Market to remain open, Sabo said, because none of the violations made the business unsafe for customers.

Belleville Fire Chief Tom Pour said the cause of the fire is undetermined pending further investigation.

"It will be some time before we have a cause," he said as some equipment inside the market must be evaluated by electrical engineers.

The fire started in the rear of the building on the second story, according to Pour.

Firefighters arrived at the market shortly before 6 p.m. Monday and remained at the scene until 2 a.m., Pour said. Fire crews had to return to the site Tuesday morning to douse several hot spots with water. No injuries were reported.

A representative with the Illinois State Fire Marshall said Tuesday afternoon the agency has not been contacted about taking part in the investigation.

Pour said the Belleville Fire Department has its own fire investigation unit with nine members and a canine accelerant dog. The dog hasn't been to the fire scene, where the entire ceiling had collapsed onto the main floor.

"The building isn't safe to be inside," Pour said.

The city of Belleville has conducted multiple inspections at the grocery store this year. The city completes building inspections when there's a change in ownership.

The longtime owners of the market, Mike Chenault and John Carpenter, sold the store in January to Vin and Dimple Aggrawal, of Edwardsville. Chenault, Carpenter or the Aggrawals couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.

A Jan. 30 building inspection found several deficiencies including a bent ceiling grid; a missing handrail on stairs leading to an upper storage area; rotted floor boards in an upper compressor room; and an unsecured vent, which was falling out of an exterior brick wall.

An electrical inspection completed by the city on Jan. 31 also found deficiencies including:

* The wiring above the drop ceiling was not up to code.

* An open splice in the panel room.

* All receps in areas with concrete floors must be GFI (ground fault interrupter) protected.

* Junction boxes not secured properly.

* Second floor equipment room compressors have open 120-volt splices.

A mechanical inspection on March 12 found deficiencies as well, including unsecured refrigeration piping; hole openings on the second floor, and flue pipe and gas piping for furnace and water heater not up to code. It said all gas piping must be secured and checked for leaks.

City Building Inspector Stan Erlinger's inspection report for March 12 stated some repairs were completed, including installation of hand and guard rails in a rear storage area; rotted floor boards replaced in a compressor room; and an aluminum vent secured to a wall.

A follow-up mechanical inspection was conducted May 16 at Main Street Market. The city inspector advised all gas appliances must be disconnected and removed from the premises; all gas piping plugged and hood dismantled; refrigeration lines need to be secured, and water heater flue needs to be secured as well.

The News-Democrat obtained copies of the inspection reports from the city of Belleville through the Freedom of Information Act.

The building that housed Main Street Market was built in 1946, according to St. Clair County property tax records.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com. Follow her on Twitter at @BND_JForsythe.

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