Update: Large G.I. Fire Destroys Businesses, Injures Firefighter


9:00 p.m. Monday Update:

The investigation continues into what destroyed three businesses in Downtown Grand Island.

G.I. Fire Chief Cory Schmidt said the State Fire Marshals Office, G.I. police and private insurance investigators remain on scene to try to figure out what started the fire. The group is set to start digging into the rubble Tuesday.

Third Street from Cleburn to Elm Streets will remain closed during the investigation. Schmidt expects it to last two to three days.

Schmidt said one firefighter suffered minor injuries while fighting Sunday's fire. He has since been released from the hospital.

7 a.m. Monday Update:

Firefighters remain on the scene in downtown Grand Island. They were assisted by around an inch of rain that fell overnight, which helped keep the fire under control.

4 a.m. Monday Update:

First responders from three communities spent the night fighting a downtown Grand Island fire that could be seen for miles.

It started as a smoky scene at Third and Elm Streets, but onlookers say it just kept growing.

“It started first it was like that antique store and then it was just going to the west side, it kept going and the fire got bigger and bigger,” says Julio Martinez of GI who stood with friends watching 50 firefighters battle the flames.

Grand Island Fire Chief Cory Schmidt says crews found fire in the roof of the more than 80-year-old multi-business building, including Ron’s Transmission and J&J’s Used Furniture, when they arrived around 8 p.m. Sunday night.

Incident commanders on the scene pulled firefighters out before most of the east side of the building collapsed, shooting flames and smoke into the sky.

“Right now what we have is a building that is unsaveable, so we’re not going to put people in danger to save a structure that can’t be saved,” says Schmidt.

Schmidt says fires in older downtown buildings can burn intensely and spread easily. He says this particular structure did not have a sprinkler system, where a modern one of that size would.

“Unfortunately they do happen and we’ve probably been lucky in the past by not having to actually face this, but it’s something we’re trained for,” he says.

Part of training includes mutual aid agreements, and GI was quickly joined by firefighters from Grand Island Rural, plus ladder trucks from St. Paul and Hastings.

“It’s kind of neighbors helping neighbors - they’ve been down to help us with downtown fires and frankly ladder trucks are what it takes,” says Hastings Fire Chief Kent Gilbert.

Hundreds of people gathered in the streets to see at least one business destroyed, two more damaged, and a fourth saved by a firewall and fast-acting crews.

“When I got here I realized early on this was going to be a significant event for the community,” says Gilbert.

“We’re very lucky here - there’s been no one seriously hurt, it is a smaller block, and overall the time of day and weather has been in our favor,” says Schmidt.

The State Fire Marshal’s office arrived Sunday night to help. Firefighters believe the blaze started in the second floor area, but since the building collapsed, Schmidt says it may be awhile before they know the cause.

“We’re going to have to dig that out and start at the bottom and work up, so it’s going to take quite some time,” he says.

Watch Good Morning Nebraska for the latest on this ongoing story.


Around 50 firefighters from Grand Island, Grand Island Rural, St. Paul and Hastings have been fighting a large fire in downtown G.I.

Grand Island Police said it appears to have started in Ron's Transmission, at Third and Elm Streets. Firefighters tell NTV there is also a body shop, and a thrift shop in the building. Part of the building has collapsed from the fire, making at least the thrift shop a total loss.

Crews have been on the scene since around 8:00 p.m. Sunday.

G.I. Fire Chief Cory Schmidt said no injuries have been reported. They moved from an attack mode, to a defensive position to contain the fire and keep it from spreading to other buildings.

Schmidt said the city has been fortunate, and has not had a major downtown fire. He said they have planned for such a possibility, and have agreements with other fire departments to help.

Hastings Fire Chief Kent Gilbert said it's a case of "neighbors helping neighbors."

He said Hastings has had a number of downtown fires where other communities aided them, and he knew a Hastings ladder truck would help Grand Island firefighters. The Grand Island Fire Department has one ladder truck as well.

Shift Commander Ed Carlin said the building was brick on the outside, but wood frame construction inside. He said that made it difficult to save the building. Modern building code would require commercial buildings now to have steel construction and use fire sprinklers, something this building was not equipped with.

With a focus on older buildings like this, Grand Island also hired a full time safety inspector. Schmidt said one of that person's jobs is to inspect downtown businesses.

The fire could be seen for several miles, with a large plume of smoke coming from central Grand Island.

Schmidt urged onlookers to stay clear of the area. Hundreds of people had gathered earlier in the night to watch the blaze.