Firefighters praised for their actions during De Pere fire

DE PERE, Wis. (WBAY) - "They are brave. They are brave. They tried to save my business, and they risked their lives to save people or business."

Firefighters battle a fire on Broadway in De Pere early in the morning of Wednesday, April 24, 2019. (WBAY photo)

Ogan Restaurant owner Ilde Nielson spent the night watching her business in downtown De Pere burn to the ground, but she wanted to thank the firefighters who responded to the call early Wednesday morning.

More than 80 firefighters were on the scene, getting everyone out of the burning building safely and preventing the fire from spreading down the block.

Many firefighters had left the scene by late Wednesday afternoon, following a long and physically grueling day. Others are keeping watch on the smoldering rubble to make sure it doesn't reignite.

De Pere's assistant fire chief says they called in a lot of help, and at one point there were six ladder trucks all spraying water at the same time. He said in his 35 years he never saw anything like that.

"What I see is absolute destruction and devastation. You are talking about multiple businesses that were operating in this building," Asst. Chief Eric Johnson said. "Their lives have turned a 180."

At this point, officials believe the fire started in Ogan Restaurant and spread throughout the two-story building. It didn't have any sprinklers but it wasn't required to; the decades-old building was grandfathered in under building codes.

Johnson is thankful they were able to contain the fire to the building where the fire started.

"We used aerial ladders from six different fire departments, in the air, flowing thousands of gallons of water at this building, at the fire to try to keep it from actually burning the entire block," Johnson said.

The walls of the building next door remain completely intact. Johnson says that's because of the design and ingenuity of these old buildings.

On the outside of the building, he points out holes in the wall which he says played a major role in keeping the building upright.

"Back in the day, they were smart enough to make cuts in the joists, so as the building comes down, they actually pull out of the wall. You can see that. Had they not done that, when this building came down, it would have pulled that down, too, and we would have gotten a domino effect."

"It's actually an angled cut, so when these big floor joists pull down, there's some big leeway and they physically pull away rather than pull the wall with it," he explained.

Johnson says those hidden holes, the wind direction, and the number of firefighters on the scene saved the rest of the block.

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