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State: Joliet prison fire was arson

This is what's left building inside Old Joliet Prison. The fire started around 3:05am  located 1125 Collins St. JolietIllinois

This is what's left of the building inside the Old Joliet Prison. The fire started around 3:05am located at 1125 Collins St. Joliet,Illinois on Thursday, July 25, 2013. | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 1, 2013 7:44PM

The fire at the closed Joliet prison last week has been ruled an arson, the state fire marshal’s office said Thursday.

A spokeswoman said the fire marshal was not releasing information as the investigation continues.

“It was ruled officially arson,” said spokeswoman Milly Santiago. “There are no suspects or individuals identified yet.”

Santiago said information was not being released as to what was found at the fire site so as not to harm the ongoing investigation.

A prison spokesman last week said the fire was considered suspicious because nothing was stored in the building that caught fire and the prison has not had electric service for years. However, speculation on the cause of the fire also included that it might have been unintentionally set by squatters inhabiting the prison.

The prison has been closed since 2002.

However, prison officials have acknowledged that people have been breaking into the facility and living there at times. Vandals also have been wrecking the interior of an office building there and spray-painting walls inside the prison.

The prison was the setting for the opening of “The Blues Brothers,” which brought national attention to the fire that broke out in the early morning hours of July 25. The fire was in a storage building for a mattress factory at the prison.

Joliet firefighters fought the blaze initially from outside the prison walls because they had no immediate access to the property. Because the storage building is just on the other side of the wall that runs along Collins Street, fire crews were able to contain the blaze by hosing it down from fire truck ladders raised above the prison wall until someone from the state arrived to open a gate.

Representives from the city of Joliet and the Illinois Department of Corrections met Thursday to discuss new procedures for responding to emergencies at the prison, said state Sen. Patrick McGuire, D-Joliet.

“I think that is the most urgent need,” McGuire said. “We were lucky that the former mattress factory was as close to the wall as it was.”

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