A huge fire destroyed a historic building in downtown St. Joseph on Monday as firefighters battled to contain and control the conflagration.
Police and city officials urged people to avoid the area near the Pioneer Building, at Francis Street and North Fifth Street. Streets remained closed and crews continued to work the scene into the evening. The building was still smoking at 7 p.m., local officials said.
Early in the day, flames and heavy smoke could be seen coming from the top of the building in videos posted on Twitter. One person taking video, Angela Anderson, wore a scarf across her face as protection from the soot that was falling throughout the area.
Crews from Savannah, Mo., and other area fire departments arrived to assist.
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“The initial attack was with some hand lines inside, (but) it became too much,” said Kenny Cordonnier, chief of fire prevention for the St. Joseph Fire Department. “They had to be pulled out, and we had to go to master streams.”
The fire was reported sometime after 9 a.m. The roof caved in within an hour and a half. The back wall collapsed, spreading the fire to another building across an alley, but that was extinguished.
Crews continued worked to contain the fire into the evening, according to the St. Joseph News-Press.
The Pioneer Building was not being used, but it is thought that vagrants may have had access to it. No injuries were reported in the fire.
It was not immediately known how the fire began in the building, which was built in 1872 and was formerly known as the Tootle Opera House. It was once known as the finest theater west of the Mississippi River. Oscar Wild and famous actor Edwin Booth played there. The St. Joseph Post reported that Buffalo Bill Cody also performed there. The facade was rebuilt in 1929.
The National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill on Monday afternoon tweeted an image showing that the fire was so large it was detected on radar.
St. Joseph fire officials were still trying to determine the extent of the damage Monday night.
The Star’s Shelly Yang contributed to this report.