PROPHETSTOWN, Ill. — Looking up at the destruction in downtown Prophetstown early this morning, resident Gayla Rasen seemed to sum up the feelings of many of her neighbors.
“It’s gone,” she said. “Our town is gone.”
A massive fire that broke out around 2 a.m. this morning destroyed eight buildings and damaged two others in the 300 block of Washington Street.
It took firefighters about two and a half to three hours to put out the flames, said Prophetstown Fire Chief Keith Crady.
Firefighters from about 25 agencies are still on the scene to look out for any hotspots and to knock down the buildings as a safety precaution, Crady said.
The fire apparently started at Cindy Jean’s restaurant. Owner Cindy Ericks, who lives in an apartment upstairs, was able to escape without injuries, Crady said.
Other tenants of apartments on the top floors of several buildings also made it out without injuries, Crady said.
The fire quickly spread to several buildings, all of which are connected, Crady said.
Crady declined to say where exactly the fire started inside the building. The state fire marshal's office is investigating the cause of the fire.
Other buildings destroyed include the Prophetstown Historical Society, D’s Variety and Crafts, Twisted Scissors salon, Kim’s Monograms, the Ceramics Center and the office of Judge Vicki Wright.
“This is a tragedy for the city of Prophestown,” said Whiteside County Sheriff Kelly Wilhelmi. “I just hope that they will be able to rebuild.”
Prophetstown Mayor Steve Swanson, who lives three blocks away from downtown, said he got to the scene not long after the initial call was received.
Swanson said the city’s water tower was nearly out of water around 5 a.m. Firefighters had to haul in more water from Clinton and Camanche, Iowa, as well as pump it from the Rock River, he said.
Swanson estimated that eight of the buildings, most of which he said are “mom and pop” stores, will have to be razed. He said he doubts that they will be rebuilt.
The small town of about 2,100 residents prides itself on its downtown efforts. Prophetstown has been an Illinois Main Street Community since 1993 and was named the “Most Arts-Friendly Small Town in Illinois” by the Illinois Art Alliance Foundation in 2005, according to the town’s Main Street website.
Swanson said the city has also received other state recognition for its efforts to revitalize the downtown community.
The loss of the historic buildings is devastating, Swanson said.
"It’s not just the loss of businesses, it’s the loss of sales tax and the loss of jobs,” he said.
Rivers of water, ash and debris ran down the street as firefighters got the flames under control.
News of the fire spread quickly, and numerous residents lined the streets to see the damage for themselves. Some passed out water to the firefighters, while others took pictures. Some residents hugged and cried as they watched the buildings come down.
The Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle was on the scene to provide canteen services for first responders. Red Cross volunteers will also meet with the families impacted to help coordinate assistance.
Lifelong Prophetstown resident Carol Kemp sniffled as she looked up at the buildings.
She praised the food at Cindy Jean’s, where she had eaten just last week. A building two doors down, which she said is now used for storage, used to be a Buick dealership.
Seeing the fire trucks throughout the area was “overwhelming,” she said.
“I’ve been dreading this for a long time,” she said. “I’m just sick about this.”
Major fire hits downtown Prophetstown
Tara Becker at 9:30 a.m.
Numerous fire departments are at the scene of a fire that destroyed several buildings in downtown Prophetstown this morning.
The Prophetstown Fire Department received a call around 2 a.m. that a fire had broken out at Cindy Jean’s restaurant.
Fire Chief Keith Crady said the fire quickly spread to eight buildings. The buildings housed businesses and apartments. It took about 2 ½ hours to put out the flames, Crady said.
He said the state fire marshal’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. He declined to say where the fire started at the restaurant.
The Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle is on the scene providing canteen services for the first responders on the scene. Red Cross volunteers will also meet with the families impacted to help coordinate assistance.
Times online staff at 6:43 a.m.
Several downtown buildings have been damaged or destroyed by a fire in Prophetstown, Ill., according to multiple TV news reports.
KWQC is reporting that at least six buildings have been destroyed, two others are affected and 25 different agencies are on the scene to fight the fire.
WQAD is reporting that there are no injuries, according to Prophetstown mayor Steve Swanson.
WHBF is reporting that the city's water tower has been drained and water is being imported from many areas. KWQC reported that sources include local farmers and the Rock River.
Prophetstown has been placed under a boil order.
Here is a collection of tweets from various local news sources: