PROPHETSTOWN – On Monday morning, Washington Street in downtown Prophetstown was filled with emergency vehicles and first responders.
On Wednesday night, the street was filled with Prophetstown residents.
The night began with a prayer service in Eclipse Square, about 200 feet from the edge of the fire that resulted in eight buildings being demolished. And after prayers from representatives from seven local churches, and a surprise appearance from the Prophetstown Fire Department, the nearly 300 people in attendance walked to the scene of the fire.
Vanessa Kochevar, 30, of Prophetstown, said she showed up last night just to support the community and the victims of the fire.
"So far it has been really good," she said of the town's attitude. "High spirits and really supportive. Everything has been, 'What can I do to help?'"
Kochevar moved to Prophetstown when she was 8, and then moved away briefly as an adult before coming back to the town to raise her family. She said she remembers running down main street as a child to buy penny candy. She would have a dollar in her hand, she said, on her way to buy 100 Swedish Fish.
Not long after the Rev. Cheri Stewart, from Prophetstown United Methodist Church, began the service, it was interupted when the fire department drove down East Railroad Street, honked their horns, turn on their sirens and waved.
Stewart later brought all the first responders, more than a dozen including firefighters and EMTs, to the front of the stage. They were applauded as they walked through the crowd. Stewart invited Fire Chief Keith Crady to speak.
"I can't do anything I do, without these guys that are right here in front of me," Crady said. "I have to have them. If I don't have them, I can't do anything. And I can't get that support from surrounding communites unless they know I have good firemen. And I have excellent firemen."
It was estimated nearly two dozen area fire departments responded to the blaze. Monday afternoon, Crady said he didn't even know who or how many had responded.
"God is here," Stewart said. "Where was God when the fire broke out? God was sending help, company after company, person after person. We can all put ourselves in the place of a victim in this situation. But we will never understand unless we've experienced the loss of everything in our lives."
Among the eight buildings lost in the historic downtown was the Prophetstown Historical Society. Chrissy Burton-Howard, 39, who was born and raised in Prophetstown, teaches third grade in the same classroom in which she attended third grade. Part of her class' curriculum, she said, is the history of the downtown.
"It's going to change," she said of her lesson plan, adding that her students used to visit each business along main street. "I have a new chapter."
Burton-Howard said her family was having a gathering Monday night, but instead of attending, she went downtown. It was important for her to watch the buildings being knocked down, she said, adding that she is "heartbroken" when she looks at the hole in downtown.
"I've thought about this a lot the last few days. I'm speechless."
Burton-Howard was also handing out free T-shirts that said, "Prophet Strong."
Her husband, Dan Howard, had called a local company and asked for shirts for the umpires for an upcoming baseball tournament in Prophetstown and Lyndon. They gave him 115 free shirts, and said they would only charge them $2 for additional orders.
The crowd ended the night in front of the rubble that was once businesses and apartments. After a period of silence, the firefighters crossed the barrier and walked into the rubble as the crowd sang "God Bless America."
Crady and his men started handing bricks to residents, the same bricks that just days before they had done all they could to save. Now they were giving those bricks to the community.
A variety of efforts have begun to help the victims of the fire:
– 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.
– Goodwill, 2216 E. Fourth St. in Sterling, is collecting water and canned goods today through Friday, and will deliver them to Prophetstown United Methodist Church.
– Linda Straith will be collecting clothing donations and nonperishable food items at the Sterling Federal Bank parking lot, 110 E. Fourth St., Sterling, in a silver Landrover from 9 a.m. to noon Friday.
– Tampico residents Kate Fisk and Jamie Mosher are selling "Support Prophetstown" T-shirts for $15 or $17, depending on the size. According to a Facebook account, money raised will go to support the vicitms of the fire.
Orders can be dropped off at the following businesses: Prophetstown Park District, 410 W. Riverside Drive; Kickback Saloon, 102 N. Main St. in Tampico; and Adami Insurance, 712 First Ave. in Rock Falls.