City scofflaw missing after fire
Blaze ‘suspicious;’ owner recently evicted, officials say
ROCK FALLS – A longtime city scofflaw went missing Monday after a “suspicious” fire broke out at his condemned home, from which he had been evicted 3 days earlier.
State and local fire officials are investigating the fire that started shortly before 8 p.m. at the 812 Ave. A home of 70-year-old Ronald Halgren.
Police are looking for Halgren, who has been entered into a database of endangered or missing people, Police Chief Mike Kuelper said.
“We don’t know his status as of this time,” Kuelper said. “For his safety and others, we entered him into the computer.”
Fire Capt. Bill Milby called the fire at the dilapidated two-story “suspicious,” and said the state fire marshal’s office is investigating.
Firefighters were called to Halgren’s home about 7:49 a.m. after a neighbor reported flames shooting out of the back of the house, Milby said.
The fire, which apparently started in the basement, spread to the rear of the first and second floors, causing moderate fire and major smoke damage. It took about 30 minutes to quell, and firefighters were on scene about 4 hours, Milby said.
No one was home when firefighters arrived, although a neighbor reported seeing Halgren there earlier that morning.
Although a cause has not yet been determined, firefighters are treating it as suspicious because “there was no reason for this fire to start,” Milby said.
Rock Falls City Manager Robbin Blackert said Halgren did not have water or sewer service, but has had electricity for at least a year.
The Vietnam veteran, who has lived in the home nearly 50 years, has been battling with the city for years over squalid conditions at the house, and his refusal to maintain required utility hook-ups.
The city twice condemned the home, in 2005 and 2009, citing a buildup of trash that attracts wild animals and numerous city code violations, including his failure to maintain utilities.
In 2006, Halgren was jailed on contempt charges for refusing to follow a court order requiring him to maintain the home and the utilities. A group of volunteers helped him clean up the yard, and get the house up to code and the utilities turned on, which halted eviction proceedings.
According to court documents, in September 2010, Whiteside County Judge Stanley Steines granted the city’s request to charge Halgren $25 a day, going back to August 2009, until all code violations were corrected.
The city wanted Halgren to pick up trash in his yard, fix the roof, replace missing railings on the back deck, hook into city utilities and trim overgrown trees and shrubbery.
By Dec. 9, 2010, Halgren owed the city $11,200, which had grown to $12,100 as of Oct. 31, according to the documents.
In August, the city filed a complaint for foreclosure, to take possession of the house and pay for the fines. Steines granted the request.
On Dec. 9, a public auction of the property was held, and the city, as creditor, bought the site for $29,500, presumably to settle Halgren’s debt, and the $15,000 he is owed because of a homestead exemption.
Halgren was given an eviction notice Friday, 8 months after the city bought the home.
He was given 3 days to leave the premises; the house was to be boarded up at 8 a.m. Monday, Sheriff Kelly Wilhelmi said.
The fire broke out about 10 minutes before 8.
The city never has taken possession of a condemned home before this, Blackert said.
“The city has initiated numerous court proceedings at a considerable expense in what has turned out to be a vain effort to correct the numerous and very visible problems with this property,” she said.
With the court order in place, the city wanted to begin to address some of the most serious health violations, such as the trash accumulation and wild animals. In the wake of the fire, she did not yet know how the city will proceed, she said..
Rickey Russell, 55, who lives across the street, said he saw people moving Halgren out of the house last week.
Russell, who has lived in his home since 2001, said Halgren’s house has been an “eyesore” in the neighborhood for years.
“Ron’s been going back and forth with the city for years,” he said.
“I would like to see at least someone who takes possession of [the house] to do something with it.”
If you see him
Ron Halgren is 5 feet 7 inches tall, 190 pounds with gray hair and a bushy gray beard. He last was seen driving his green 1992 Toyota Tercel, license plate “WRLWN1.”
Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call Rock Falls Police at 815-622-1140.
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