Metro-East News

Blast sparks large fire in downtown Lebanon

A large fire broke out after an explosion in an apartment and commercial building in downtown Lebanon but no injuries were reported.

Lebanon-Emerald Mound Fire Chief Adam Mueller said the cause of the Friday night explosion remains under investigation by the Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office but a natural gas explosion is being checked out as a possible cause of the blast at 108 W. St. Louis St. near Illinois 4.

Lebanon Mayor Rich Wilken said people in the area said they had smelled natural gas but it had not been reported.

A car that was near the building was damaged by debris flying from the blast but the motorist was not injured when the back window of the car was shattered.

“As bad it was, it could have been so much worse,” Wilken said.

Firefighters responded to a large fire caused by a possible natural gas explosion in a downtown Lebanon building at 108 W. St. Louis St. Friday night but no injuries were reported. Jenifer Elias

Jenifer Elias, who once lived in the second floor apartment, was inside the nearby Looking Glass Playhouse when she heard there was a fire downtown.

Since she wasn’t scheduled to go on stage for her part in the play “Rumors” until later in the evening, she walked down the block to check out the fire.

“The whole side of the building was gone,” said Elias, who lived in the apartment in the 1990s when she attended McKendree University.

Elias, who now lives in New Baden, said there were bricks strewn all over because of the blast. And as she took pictures of the blaze, she could feel the heat from the fire.

The fire was reported at about 7:30 p.m. Friday and firefighters cleared the scene at 12:30 a.m. Saturday.

Mueller said the building is off-limits until an engineer can evaluate it. He said there was one apartment above an Edward Jones office and one apartment in the basement.

Wilken, who estimated the brick building is about 100 years old, said he expects the building to be declared a complete loss.

Mueller said he was thankful for the assistance his department received from Mascoutah, O’Fallon and Trenton firefighters.

Mike Koziatek joined the Belleville News-Democrat in 1998 as an assistant editor and is now a reporter covering the Belleville area. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee and is from St. Louis.