Fire breaks out in Joliet prison made famous in 'Blues Brothers' - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

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Fire breaks out in Joliet prison made famous in 'Blues Brothers'

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

A fire broke out early Thursday inside the Joliet prison made famous by the movie "The Blues Brothers."

The fire broke out about 3:15 a.m. in an empty warehouse that used to house mattresses made by inmates at the prison, said Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer.

At first, firefighters faced difficulty stretching water hoses into the yard of the prison, which closed in 2002, said Joliet Fire Department Deputy Chief Ray Randich.

"Twenty-eight years on the job and this is the first time I've had to break into a prison," Randich said. "We had keys to the sally port doors, but they were all welded shut."

In the end it was easier for crews to soak the warehouse, which was a total loss, from extension ladders, he said.

By 7:30 a.m. the fire was smoldering and appeared under control, he said.

The warehouse, which is maintained by the state department of Central Management Services, was empty when the fire broke out, Shaer said.

Investigators from the state Fire Marshal's office were dispatched to the scene to search for a cause, officials said. The warehouse was not connected to electricity or other utilities, according to officials.

"The area we fought the fire from is the same area where (the character "Joliet Jake" Blues, played by John Belushi) came out of the prison property," Randich said.

Mike Johnson is a former prison guard who now volunteers at the Joliet Area Historical Museum. As a guard, he crossed paths with serial killer Richard Speck in 1989.

"His whole demeanor and just the way he used to walk, he could make your skin crawl, it was just something about him," Johnson says.

Other famous inmates included John Wayne Gacy and the notorious mobster Baby Face Nelson.

"One of the myths is that he escaped from Joliet, actually he was at Joliet but he escaped from a car bringing him to court," Johnson recalls.

But the prison gained true fame from Hollywood.

"There were things in the prison that said that this is the sight of the filming of the ‘Blues Brothers,' like the clothing room where Belushi, got his clothes, one fallacy is that, well, we don't keep inmates clothes," Johnson explains.

The prison, built in 1858 by convict labor with limestone quarried on the site, has been featured in the movies "The Blues Brothers" and "Let's Go to Prison" and the TV show "Prison Break."

Even though it's been years since the last prisoner left, this historic lock up continues to hold memories.

No other buildings were damaged by the fire.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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