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Residents begin rebuilding, healing process

PROPHETSTOWN – Less than 36 hours after a fire ripped through downtown Prophetstown, leading to eight buildings being demolished, the city had already started the healing process.

“I think these people have recovered quickly,” Mayor Steve Swanson said. “They’re sad, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve heard very few negative points, mostly positive. That, ‘We can do this, and we can do that.’”

Prophetstown Main Street Executive Director Eileen Detra said there was a meeting Monday night to discuss plans for the stretch of downtown that’s now rubble.

“If [the business owners] want to rebuild, we’re going to find ways for them,” she said. “We have a lot of different avenues, even at Illinois Main Street.”

For safety reasons, the eight buildings destroyed by the fire were knocked down Monday, leaving a hole in the center of downtown. The alley behind the buildings and the stretch of sidewalk and parking spaces along Washington Street in front of the rubble had been blocked off.

Prophetstown Police Chief Mike Fisk estimated the cost of rebuilding each of the eight demolished buildings at $250,000, including replacing the contents.

Just a few buildings down from the northern edge of the fire, in the window of Generation’s Antiques and Gifts, was a sign that said, “Prophetstown Strong.”

Written on the window, in what appeared to be a child’s writing, was: “We all know Cindy Jean’s was a good restaurant, but now it has burnt down and Cindy is really sad. We say to Cindy that we are sorry that her restaurant burnt down.”

The writing was followed by a frowning face.

What now?

Angie Stegmiller, 26, was asleep in the back of the apartment with the air conditioning on, so she couldn’t hear Taylor Bonnell banging on her door.

Stegmiller, who said she didn’t have renter’s insurance, lived above K&D’s Monogram, the store and building her parents own.

Bonnell had been with Stegmiller, her sister and her sister’s boyfriend, who all lived in the apartment, earlier in the night and left. He got a call about the fire, Stegmiller said, and came back to her apartment. 

After banging on the door with no answer, Stegmiller said, Bonnell kicked it down, woke everyone up, and helped them get out. On her way out, Stegmiller was able to grab her two guitars, her fish and her turtle. Her two cats still are missing, she said, but she was holding out hope they would turn up.

“We really weren’t thinking about, ‘We should grab this and we should grab that,’” Stegmiller said. 

She ran out of the apartment without shoes on, she said, and didn’t have any until some residents she barely knew ran home and brought back shoes for her and the others from her apartment.

Now, her focus has turned to basic survival needs, such as clothing and food. She lost everything in the fire, including knick knacks from her grandparents and Chicago Bears memorabilia – tickets to games she attended and a Brian Urlacher autograph. She also lost her “gigantic” record collection, she said. 

“It’s not just the stuff,” Stegmiller said. “It’s the memories behind the stuff.”

But the events of the previous 2 days made Stegmiller realize some things, she said. She now knows the things she really values in life, and just how kind other people can be.

“I can’t even express the way people, from friends to strangers [have helped],” she said. “It has been mind blowing.”

Prophetstown United Methodist Church, 200 W. Second St., served dinner to 239 people, including firefighters, Monday night during its previously scheduled Pat’s Table dinner. The Rev. Cheri Stewart said the church received so much food its freezers were filling up. They planned to have another community dinner Tuesday night.

“You can destroy things and stuff,” Stewart said. “You can’t destroy people’s spirits.”

The church was handing out free bottles of water Tuesday as a boil order for the town still was in effect. It could be lifted today, depending on the samples sent to a lab. The bottled water, about 18 pallets worth, was donated by Walmart and Hartig Drug Stores, which has a main street location near the fire.

Not everyone rebuilding

Dolores Francis owned D’s Variety for 35 years, but said she won’t be among those rebuidling. But she’s OK with that, she said. She can’t replace the material things she lost, but she’s happy to be alive.

Francis said she was awakened by a firefighter about 3 a.m. Monday, nearly 30 minutes after the first 911 call about the fire.

“I’m a positive person,” she said. “I will go on. You can replace material things. ... I haven’t really broke down and got all upset. I know it’s a bad thing. I’m handling it pretty well. We’re going to move on.”

Francis also lived in her building. She said she always feared something like this might happen. For now, she said, she’s staying with a niece outside Prophetstown.

Stegmiller is staying with her parents, who, she said, depending on the insurance money, might rebuild their business.

The community support, she said Tuesday, had been helping her through a tough day.

“It’s even hugs,” Stegmiller said. “I’ve gotten so many hugs.”

To help

Prophetstown has set up a fund, "Main Street Fire Victims," to help people start to rebuild their lives.

Donations can be made at any of the three Farmers National Bank locations, in Prophetstown, Geneseo and Morrison. 

Prophetstown United Methodist Church, 200 W. Second St., is collecting packaged food and clothing.

Call 815-537-2496 for more information or to donate.

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