Prophetstown Fire: Six Months Later

Jan 16, 2014

Six months ago this week, residents in Prophetstown woke up to find part of their downtown destroyed by fire.  In July, broken glass and rubble replaced familiar businesses. Eight buildings in all were destroyed. Authorities say the fire was set in a recycling bin behind a restaurant. Two half-brothers are charged with arson. The will have another hearing next week in Whiteside County.

A downtown Prophetstown building after the fire (taken July 2013)
Credit Credit Chelsey Fulbright / WNIJ

Mayor Steve Swanson says things are moving along smoothly.

"I think by the first of May we will see some nails being pounded here," Swanson said.

He says the clean-up has been expedited as much as possible.

"We kind of have another approach here," Swanson said. "The city kind of took the bull by the horns and took charge of the demolition/clean-up on our own and then collected from each property owner rather than have seven or eight different contractors do it and, consequently, I think that went very well."

He says residents are coming to terms with the loss.

"I think we would have seen these same feelings from the people if it was a natural disaster or  happened the way it happened," Swanson said. "A little time has [gone] by now. The first two weeks people were kind of bitter. I think that bitterness has somewhat subsided. I think most people, like myself, we are just looking ahead now, we aren't going to look behind us."

He says much progress has been made since the fire.

"Compared to a lot of towns, I think we are probably two years ahead of what they have been through in the same situation as far as the clean-up. As far as the re-building, we've got two good prospects," Swanson said.

Swanson says one priority is for the new buildings to maintaining a facade that blends in the buildings that were not destroyed.

Prophetstown's historical society was displaced after the fire. The group is making plans for a permanent location.