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Five-alarm fire causes extensive damage at Country Classic Cars

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Still image from video below.

Country Classic Cars, a Hemmings Pro dealer located just off Route 66 in Staunton, Illinois, has long been known for its large inventory of collectible cars. With five-plus storage buildings and numerous pole barns on its property, the dealership has storage room for 600-plus automobiles, but on Tuesday night, the central building caught fire, damaging or destroying as many as 150 vehicles.

The fire was reported shortly before 8:00 p.m., and quickly grew to five alarms, with an estimated 15 departments from surrounding communities responding. Gusty winds fanned the flames, and at one point there was speculation that Interstate 55, which parallels the Country Classic Cars property, would be shut down as the flames spread. A lack of on-site water compounded the difficulties faced by firefighters, who were forced to rely upon water tankers to extinguish the blaze, which was declared under control at approximately 9:30 p.m.

No injuries were reported in the fire, which appeared to be contained to a single building that served as both a storage and repair facility. Chief Rick Haase of the Staunton Fire Department reported that the blaze began in the center of the building, but quickly spread to both ends, and shortly after the arrival of firefighters on scene, the structure’s roof collapsed.  The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, and as is standard practice in such incidents, the state fire marshal is investigating.

The exact cars damaged, and the extent of the damage to each, remains unclear as owners Russ and Anita Noel, along with their sales staff, begin the process of sifting through the rubble. Reached by telephone, Russ was able to confirm the estimated loss at about 150 vehicles. He was quick to recognize the efforts of local fire departments, praising them for saving all vehicle titles and most of the paperwork stored in the building’s office, located on the south end of the building.

The source of the fire remains a mystery to Russ, who insisted that all cars stored inside have their batteries disconnected to avoid such an accident. The property was insured, but its value had not been adjusted in recent years, leaving the owner to hope that the business had sufficient coverage to rebuild and replace inventory. “Some of the cars can’t be replaced,” Russ told Hemmings, using a 1936 Ford pickup as an example. “Old trucks like this aren’t easy to find these days.”

We will bring you more information as it becomes available.