Sirens filled the air on Thursday in Hillsboro as firetrucks rushed to a fire at Dollar General. Many wondered if it had to do with the ongoing water issues in the area due to a broken water main, but it soon became clear that there was an actual fire emergency.
Hillsboro Fire Chief Ben Steketee said, “When I got on scene I was greeted by the county emergency management director and a Hillsboro Police Officer who informed me that all were out except for two customers who were fighting the fire. When I entered there was thin smoke throughout the interior of the building and a small amount of burning merchandise. I greeted the two young men and thanked them for their help and instructed them to leave the building for their safety. They were both very gracious and complied.”
Steketee went on to say that the fire department response was textbook. Two firefighters (Mason McCarty and Corey Unruh) entered the building in full gear including air packs, tools and an 1.75” preconnected hose line.
“Within seconds Mason was on the radio calling for water which was delivered immediately, thanks to Matt Hein and his crew on the pump. Coincidently, Mason, Corey and Matt had just led our training drill the night before, which included air pack training and advancing hose lines,” said Steketee.
After the two inside reported that the fire was out, the department worked to open doors and get fans in place to get rid of the smoke.
“We then assisted law enforcement with the investigation and securing the building. All this with the knowledge that the entire area was without water due to a broken water main,” said Steketee.
The fire was found to be arson, although the name of the suspect has not been released.
Steketee said, “I can tell you that the fire was intentionally set and that Hillsboro PD and the Kansas State Fire Marshal Investigator have a person of interest, and that the investigation is ongoing.”
“We know it was set by a thirteen year old male in the clothing area,” said Hillsboro Police Chief Dan Kinning. “We identified the suspect through video and he has admitted to starting the fire.”
Due to the damage, the store has not been able to reopen for business yet.
“We do not know at this time when we will be able to open again,” said store manager Robert Nelson.
While the fire was put out quickly, there was extensive smoke damage.
“Sounds like the fire may have been contained to a small area but the interior of the store may have a lot of smoke damage. No damage estimate yet. Our fire martial happened to be working for the PD this morning [Friday] and was going to take a look. At this point it appears to be fairly cut and dry,” said Kinning.
The store remains closed to the public at press time.