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Older boy pleads guilty to arson in Prophetstown fire

17-year-old interested in fire safety course

STERLING – The older half-brother involved in starting the July fire that burned down much of downtown Prophetstown pleaded guilty to arson Tuesday.

In return for the plea, prosecutors dropped 18 other charges against him.

Whiteside County Assistant State's Attorney Carol Linkowski asked the judge to consider compensation for all of the victims of the fire.

Whiteside County Associate Judge Bill McNeal set the boy's sentencing for April 22.

The boy turned 17 on Monday.

His younger half-brother pleaded guilty to arson at the end of January and was sentenced to 5 years probation — the maximum allowable punishment.

As the 17-year-old entered his plea, his mother, sitting with her fiance and the rest of the boy's family, sobbed quietly.

He has been living with his mother in Oshkosh, Wis., and will continue to do so. He has also apparently expressed interest in attending a fire safety course offered by the Oshkosh Fire Department. Judge McNeal agreed with that idea.

Linkowski said the boys indicated to authorities after the fire that they had sneaked out of their father’s house and that the 16-year-old had a lighter. She said they first set fire to a recycling bin by the library, which they watched burn out, before starting the fire behind Cindy Jean’s Restaurant. The boys took off their shirts and added them to the fire to increase the size of the flames, Linkowski said.

Authorities say it was the fire behind the restaurant that then spread, ultimately destroying eight buildings and damaging two others. More than half a dozen people were left homeless.

The fire erupted about 2:30 a.m. in the 300 block of Washington Street, which is the town’s main street and the heart of its historic downtown business district.

The buildings were about 150 years old and housed business such as D’s Variety Store, Twisted Scissors salon, Kim’s Monograms, and the town’s historical society.

Sauk Valley Media is not identifying the boys because they were charged as juveniles.

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