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Blaze consumes building: Firefighters douse flames in 12-degree weather

ROCK FALLS – Enduring freezing weather, firefighters battled a blaze that ravaged a building along U.S. Route 30 on Tuesday. No one was hurt.

As daylight turned to nightfall, firefighters continued to battle the raging fire in 12-degree temperatures. Explosions rocked the building. A black plume of smoke could be seen around Rock Falls and Sterling.

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The building, at 860 E. Rock Falls Road next to Gieson Motorsports, belonged to Doug House, owner of Rock River Cartage, and housed semitrailers and other vehicles, Rock Falls Fire Capt. Bill Milby said. A number of people rented space there.

Firefighters hadn't determined the cause of the fire as of early Tuesday evening, saying the state fire marshal would investigate.

Curt House, Doug's son, said his parents built the structure in the late 1970s. Most of it was destroyed, he said, but he held out hope the front office would survive.

By 7:30 p.m., firefighters still were putting out hot spots. Flames could be seen under the collapsed roof. They still were on site at 9 p.m.

A tent was set up with heaters and refreshments inside. Rock Falls Deputy Chief Gary Cook said he was rotating firefighters so they could warm up.

Curt House said he arrived at the fire about 4:45 p.m. when the northeastern corner was engulfed in flames. He was on the phone with his insurance company.

Cook said he wanted to get word from the insurance company about whether to take down some walls in dealing with the blaze. The fire department often makes sure about its next step after it gets a fire under control so that the property owner is properly compensated, Cook said.

One of the renters said nothing would be salvageable.

"Anyone with anything in there, it's gone," he said.

In the first hours, water tankers from area fire departments continually rolled into the parking lot.

At the beginning, dozens of residents sat in their cars watching the fire from the Gieson parking lot. Few people stood outside in the cold weather.

Devan Kuhlemier, 16, did for a time, standing about 300 feet away. His uncle, Randy Shankel, rented space in the warehouse.

"I can feel the heat," Kuhlemier said. "There's diesel, oil and gasoline in there."

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