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Trying to rebuild after fire in Fulton

Lot remains empty after 2010 blaze

For Bill and Pam Blecha, it could have been much worse, but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy.

It’s been nearly 3 years since fire destroyed the Fulton Commerce Building, claiming the lives of 41-year-old Charlene Sipe, a dog and four cats, the couple had plans to rebuild. But in this economy, those plans didn’t make it very far.

The lot on the 1000 block of Fourth Street remains empty.

“The problem is, we have savings, but we’re living on those savings,” Bill Blecha said. “It’s one of those things you don’t expect.”

Blecha had a business for 25 years before moving to Fulton, where he had expected to retire, using the profits from their rental property as a sort of pension fund. An electrical engineer, he’s currently seeking employment.

They spent almost $70,000 on the building cleanup alone after the Nov. 23, 2010, fire. All of the paintings in Pam Blecha’s gallery were lost, as was all the money they had put into restoring the building – costs they never could recover.

“You know, things happen, but we’re healthy,” he said. “We didn’t lose any of our pets, and we didn’t lose a lot of our personal items.”

The couple still pay taxes on the land, and remain responsible for snow removal and taking care of the grass.

Other than a letter of apology that the Blechas received from the boy responsible for the fire, they haven’t kept in contact.

“It would be nice if he came by and mowed the lawn once in a while,” Blecha joked.

“He and his younger brother went through so much, it was very hard for us to want to add to that misery that he was going through already,” he said. “Kids make stupid mistakes.”

Renter Charlene Sipe, 41, died in the blaze.

The Blechas have no immediate plans to do anything with the lot, instead waiting for some indication of economic growth in the area, Blecha said. Then they’d be prepared to reinvest.

“We had a wonderful response from our fire department, as did those in Prophetstown,” he said. “We’re really fortunate to have volunteers who are willing to risk their lives. We’ll be forever grateful for that.”

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