From WILL - News Headlines -

Major Fire Affects Businesses, Residents in Campustown

Updated at 6:36m

A fire in the 600 block of East Green Street in Champaign has heavily damaged at least one building and affected a half-block of buildings in the heart of the Campustown area.

The fire led to a partial collapse of the roof above Zorba's restaurant. Structures affected most by the fire include an office for the U of I's department Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Pitaya clothing store, Mia Za's Cafe, and Zorba's restaurant.The fire brought out more than a dozen emergency vehicles from both Champaign and Urbana, as thick smoke could be seen around the twin cities. Smoke damage also affected the adjacent Freestar Bank branch and nearby apartments.

Matt Mortenson has worked at Zorba's for nearly 30 years and owns the business. Mortenson spotted smoke coming out of the apartment above Pitaya at around 7:35 this morning. He said he noticed flames shooting 20 to 30 feet in the air, but he doesn't know badly his business was damaged.

"You don't know whether to laugh or cry about it," Mortenson said. "If it wasn't burned, there's a lot of water damage I'm sure."

Urbana Fire Chief Mike Dilley said a fire in a concealed space at the top of the building burned "fairly undetectably" for some time. He said that in the space housing Zorba's, the roof and sections of the floor had collapsed into the first floor, but that the first floor was still intact.

Dan Davis is a web developer for Illinois Public Media, and he lives right next to the building that burned Wednesday morning. Davis said he was asleep as the fire broke out next door.

"I heard a few minutes before a commotion outside, which I ignored like I often do," Davis said. "The next thing I know, there was a firefighter kicking my bed, telling me that it's not a drill and I got to get out immediately"

Davis said he was able to grab some computer equipment before he got out of the building, which he says had already partially filled with smoke. He noted that he was the only occupant inside his building - everyone else was either on spring break or at work.

Champaign Fire Department spokeswoman Dena Schumacher said both departments did a terrific job containing the blaze to one building.

"When we got on the scene, there was smoke crossing Green Street," she said. "That doesn't happen very often."

Schuamacher said the city will follow the recommendation of a structural engineer, who said that part of the building was too unsafe after sustaining heavy fire, water, and smoke damage. The area of the building to be removed consists of a dining area for Mia Za's Cafe, and a small unoccupied apartment. Schmachuer said removing that floor could happen Thursday.

The 600 block of East Green Street remains closed to traffic overnight.

(Photo courtesy of John Paul)

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