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A surveillance camera revealed a discarded cigarette in a cardboard box filled with dirt caused the fire Thursday at the Suarez & Associates building, police chief Doug Bernabei said.
Fire and smoke heavily damaged the building and there were no injuries. Bernabei, Peru fire chief Jeff King and a state fire marshal investigated the fire, Bernabei said.
“We have surveillance video that we were able to view last evening that captured the events,” Bernabei said. “There’s no question about it that the fire was accidental in nature.”
There were two makeshift ashtrays outside the rear of the business. One was a plastic vase and the other was a cardboard box, both filled with dirt. The employee, a man, placed the cigarette in the cardboard box, according to Bernabei and King.
“An employee of Suarez had been smoking a cigarette at the rear outside of the building,” Bernabei said. “The employee disposed of the cigarette in somewhat of a homemade ashtray and believed the cigarette was out.”
After the man put the cigarette in the box, the business closed up for the day around noon.
The cigarette started a fire in the box which spread to the building, Bernabei said.
“The fire burned the outside of the building and the door and worked its way inside the building,” Bernabei said. “And it burned for approximately 1½ hours before it was discovered by Chief King who was driving south on Peoria Street.”
After King spotted the smoke and called it in, firefighters broke into the locked building to extinguish the fire. They soon focused their efforts at the rear of the insurance and financial services business at 1513 Peoria St.
Owner Joe Suarez said Friday morning he was in Puerto Rico on Thursday and was just learning the details. The fire caused “expensive damage” and he plans to rebuild, Suarez said.
King called the fire in at 1:33 p.m.
La Salle, Spring Valley and Oglesby firefighters responded and Utica firefighters covered the Peru fire station. Firefighters were dismissed at 6:33 p.m.