Fire officials were on the scene early Thursday morning at the Downing Museum. WKU officials were not far behind. Their first priority was to rescue and preserve the art work held inside.
"What a tragic situation here today, but I'm so proud of our ground grew and our facility staff." said WKU President Dr. Gary Ransdell.
Firefighters received a call from workers at the Baker Arboretum around 6:15 saying the Downing Museum was on fire. The museum holds many pieces crafted by the late Joe Downing, making the response a race against time. Firefighters say when they arrived the flames had already filled the floor, walls and roof. It took hours to fight the raging blaze, but around noon it was contained.
"It's a nightmare. Joe was a good friend. Joe Downing. This was his whole life's work. We had a enough original artwork of his to switch out the museum every six months for 12 years and never use the same piece twice. The fact that we saved most of it is amazing." said Craig Cunningham of the Jerry E. Baker Foundation.
"It's all being taken to campus now for safe storage. We've saved 90% of the art in this museum and that's a tribute to a lot of people this morning." added Dr. Ransdell.
Officials at the arboretum say the number of people who arrived to help was unbelievable.
"It's uplifting, which is what you need on a day like today." added an emotional Cunningham.
WKU President Dr. Gary Ransdell said the art collection is priceless and the university is hoping to be able to restore much of it that was damaged in the fire.