NORTH CHICAGO, Ill. (STMW) – A four-alarm fire that destroyed half of the old Knights Inn motel Monday morning in North Chicago is suspected to be arson.

North Chicago Fire Department Chief Ted Wilder said a city building department employee was checking the building on Green Bay Road Monday morning when he thought he heard someone inside the bank-owned building.

“He heard an east door close and when he went to that area he discovered a number of cardboard boxes on fire,” he said.

What the building department employee didn’t know was there was a fire set in another part of the building.

“There were two for sure,” said North Chicago Fire Shift Cmdr. Dell Urban, adding it appeared there was also a fire in the game room of the old hotel.

Wilder said police and fire responded to the scene just after 10 a.m. “and we realized this fire was growing in intensity.”

That’s when the alarm was elevated four times to bring in extra equipment and firefighters from neighboring departments, including crews from as far away as Mundelein.

A backhoe was brought in to uncover hot spots in the part of the building closest to the roadway.

Green Bay Road was shut down right away and was still shut down at 5 p.m. Monday while the last of the hot spots were extinguished.

The Inn had been shuttered for about two years, according to city officials.

It started out as a Holiday Inn back in the 1970s and most recently it opened twice as the Star Voyager restaurant that had space and science fiction themes in 1997 and again in 2000.

When the restaurant was there it was owned by the Western Inn motel, which was renovating the hotel in 2000, and it was going to be called the Villager Lodge.

© Sun-Times Media Wire Chicago Sun-Times 2011. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.