UNION HILL — Fire swept through Vanfab Inc., destroying the 7,000-square-foot metal fabricating production facility and offices on Friday afternoon.
As flames climbed 100 feet into the air and black smoke billowed out of the office portion of Vanfab and Van Voorst Lumber Company, a resident showing fire pictures he took on his cellphone said, “It’s a lot of history burning.”
On the southwest corner of the block long facility was the original 3,000-square-foot stone building erected in 1896.
According to the company’s Facebook page, George Van Voorst started a hardware store in the building that his son, Gilbert, developed for a half century.
Gilbert’s son Hugh transformed the business into the lumber company, specializing in industrial skids, crates and wood products. It later added metal fabrication.
Hugh Van Voorst watched as firefighters from more than 20 departments fought the fire. He sat about 100 yards away in an all-terrain vehicle.
The company’s Director of Operations, Mike Hammond, said there were still some items from the hardware store inside, including horse collars.
That original building also housed the town’s U.S. Post Office for the town of about 60 residents.
Hammond said there were 32 employees at work when the fire broke out at about 1:10 p.m. They all were evacuated.
A spark from a crane was what started the fire, Hammond said. Investigators were on scene.
Hammond said the company will rebuild.
Herscher Assistant Fire Chief Corey Eich, the incident commander, said no firefighters were injured.
He said within a few minutes of firefighters arriving, the building was totally involved.
Eich said it was the biggest fire in the western part of Kankakee County in the past 20 years.
Several people said they heard several loud explosions.
Firefighters hosed down two 1,000 gallon tanks on the east side of the facility. They contained liquid nitrogen.