Two days before it was scheduled to be demolished, the Lake County Forest Preserve District's former headquarters in Libertyville was engulfed by flames Thursday.
The fire was reported about 3:15 p.m. in the vacant building at 2000 N. Milwaukee Ave. -- almost two hours after firefighters who were doing live fire training left for the day. They were scheduled to burn the structure down Saturday morning as part of that exercise.
"It was supposed to happen anyway," said Libertyville Fire Chief Rich Carani. "It just happened a little bit earlier."
"We lost a day of training."
Nonetheless, the afternoon inferno wasn't planned, forest district Operations and Public Safety Director Mike Tully said.
Carani said it's believed the fire started in the roof because when firefighters came back to the house Thursday afternoon, the top of the building was well-involved. The fires that had been set for training purposes were extinguished before everyone left.
"An hour later, the whole roof was on fire," Carani said. "Obviously, we missed a spot."
The old home was of balloon construction, leaving a straight run from the basement to the attic. "It's just a big chimney," he said.
Large flames were visible on the first and second floors of the building and through the roof. Smoke could be seen from several miles away. Milwaukee Avenue was shut down between Route 137 and Casey Road because of the fire.
"No one called it in," Carani said. "We saw it from the station," also on Milwaukee Avenue south of the entrance to the former headquarters.
There were no injuries as a result of the blaze.
On Thursday night, an equipment operator was pushing in the walls of what was left of the smoldering structure into the basement. Firefighters planned to contain the debris there so as to prevent any more flames from spreading.
The structure is a 1920s-era home once owned by meat packing magnate David Armour in a wooded setting on Milwaukee Avenue north of Route 137 on the west side of the Independence Grove Forest Preserve.
The forest district headquarters was there for 35 years and consolidated operations and relocated in 2011 to a building on Winchester Road. On-site structures had been used as a base of operations by Walsh Construction Co., during a two-year widening of Milwaukee Avenue and intersection improvement at Route 137.
The house is surrounded by trees, bushes and other plants. Tully expected some trees to be damaged by the fire.
District employees likely will examine the site for damage Friday, he said.
Daily Herald staff writers Gilbert R. Boucher II, Mick Zawislak and Christopher Placek contributed to this report.