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Cleanup upsets 2011 fire survivor

Man’s mother lost life in blaze; father died weeks later

Published: Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Submitted)
Authorities take down the house at 204 N. Main St. in Coleta shortly after a fire destroyed the structure Feb. 21, 2011. Doris Kvinge, 85, died in the blaze. Her husband, Milton, was sent to the hospital. He died 3 weeks later.

COLETA – A fire that destroyed a two-story house in Coleta nearly 3 years ago was a tragedy.

Doris Kvinge, 85, lost her life in the blaze, while her husband, Milton, 87, was taken to the hospital. He died 3 weeks later.

One of their five children, son Marc Kvinge, now 59, lived with them. He was on a respirator for a few days after the fire, but he recovered.

Today, he’s involved in a dispute – and a lawsuit – with village officials over the property.

They say the site was an eyesore and a problem for months after the fire. He disagrees with the way the village cleaned up the property – and he wonders what happened to a car his parents owned.

After the fire, Marc moved to an apartment in Rock Falls and then later to Newport Beach, Calif.

Coleta, a tiny village northwest of Sterling, was left to deal with the property at 204 N. Main St., said its president, Sally Douglas.

“It was a big pile of rubble. It looked really bad,” she said in a recent interview. “The weeds were 3 feet high, and the lawn wasn’t mowed. The well water would run into the basement, contaminating others’ wells and making their well water taste bad. Everyone taps out of the same aquifer.”

For the past couple of years, Douglas said, the village asked the family “nicely” to clean up the property.

“No one responded,” she said. “No one wanted to do anything.”

The village, represented by attorney Lon Richey, filed a lawsuit in early June to seek action. 

No one showed up at a June 14 hearing, when the village got permission to clean up the property. The project took place later that summer.

According to the county, property tax bills for 204 N. Main St. are being sent to Marc’s former apartment address in Rock Falls. Milton is listed as the property’s owner.

During a hearing in December – after the demolition occurred – Marc attended, but without an attorney.

‘I got things after the fact’

In a telephone interview, Marc said his mail was forwarded from Rock Falls to California, where he moved last spring. But he said he never received the notice for the June hearing.

“I got things after the fact,” he said.

Marc said he understood why the village filled in the hole and charged his father’s estate. But he questioned why it also took down trees, removed a 1997 Oldsmobile with only 70,000 miles, and demolished the separate, undamaged garage, which he said was in good condition.

He said he left rubble in the hole, but removed all of the above-ground debris.

“The garage could have used a coat of paint,” he said, “but you don’t tear down a garage because it needs a coat of paint.”

The well, he said, was capped not long after the fire.

Douglas, however, said the property was a mess that needed to be cleaned up. And she said the garage wasn’t in good condition.

As for the car, she said: “Whoever cleaned up the property towed it behind town hall. Then it was gone. I have no idea where it went.”

The cleanup cost about $20,000, and the village has put a lien on the property, Douglas said. Coleta will have to foreclose on the property to sell it, she said. 

‘Then I heard an explosion’

Shortly after midnight Feb. 21, 2011, Marc woke up to noise. He went downstairs.

“I saw smoke down the steps,” he said. “I looked at my father. He was fanning the ceiling; the plaster was burning. It was an electrical fire. He said he was working on a lamp.”

Marc said he told his father to leave the house. His mother had been sleeping. 

“I heard her say, ‘Marc, Marc.’ She sounded like she was using her walker. Then I heard an explosion,” he said.

Marc, who had taken care of his parents for years, said he couldn’t get to his mother, so he was “beating on doors” trying to get someone to call the fire department. He went into the house a few times to try to save his mother, but couldn’t.

Everything was a blur, he said.

“I said, ‘Get my mom the hell out of there.’”

Milton was found lying near the back porch door, according to authorities.

Doris was active in the Coleta United Methodist Church. Milton was a retired insurance adjuster from Chicago.

The family was from the Chicago area, but had lived in Coleta for 15 years.

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