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Police: 3 teens in custody for fire

Witness confirms they exited vacated Limestone Building; hearing is today

ROCK FALLS – Pegged for demolition, the vacant Limestone Building on the city’s riverfront has had a number of unwelcome visitors, a city official told SVM last year.

Thursday, some of those unwelcome visitors might have started a fire.

Three teenage boys were in custody Thursday afternoon after a Rock Falls police officer returning from court saw them leaving as smoke was coming out of the building, at 201 W. First St.

The boys, two 14-year-olds and a 15-year-old, were taken to the Mary Davis Juvenile Detention facility in Galesburg. The boys were charged with criminal trespass to a building and arson. A detention hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. today.

Rock Falls High School seniors were out of school Thursday, and freshmen, sophomores and juniors were let out of classes at 11:30 a.m.

Sterling and Rock Falls fire departments responded to a report of smoke coming from the Limestone Building just before 1 p.m. Thursday, Chief Gary Cook said.

When firefighters arrived, Cook said, they found a small fire on the first floor that had extended to the second floor.

The three boys were taken into custody when the police officer saw them walking down the street and confirmed with a witness that they had walked out of the building, Rock Falls Police Chief Mike Kuelper said. The boys were dirty, smelled like smoke and were covered in cobwebs, police said.

No one was injured in the blaze, and fire crews cleared the scene about an hour after their arrival.

The building has been vacant for two decades, and city officials are working to demolish it. The inside of the building is so deteriorated that crews can’t safely enter. City Administrator Robbin Blackert said during an interview with Sauk Valley Media in August that the building is a “beautiful eyesore,” one that is not feasible to save.

Blackert said during that interview that, while the structure is “not a place people should be venturing into,” there is plenty of evidence that visitors are inside the building more frequently than the city would like.

The city in January applied for a $200,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to pay for assessment and cleanup planning, among other things. Blackert said last week that the city hadn’t yet received a decision on its application.

The building was a manufacturing site for farm equipment from 1867 to 1961. The city took possession of the building in 2009, as part of a larger plan in which the city used EPA brownfields grants to remediate several other riverfront buildings from 2005 to 2009.

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