FULTON, Ill. — Charlie Wheeler was sitting in his downtown Fulton apartment at 208 10th Ave. watching TV and relaxing shortly before 11 a.m. Friday.

Adam Kaufman, who had returned home from his third-shift job at Collis in Clinton, was asleep in the building’s apartment No. 2.

Kim Boyjiski, who was celebrating her birthday Friday, was taking a nap in apartment No. 4 as her daughter watched TV nearby.

Soon, their quiet Friday morning was turned upside down by a large fire that consumed the building’s uppermost floor.

Firefighters throughout Friday doused the flames and worked to find the cause of the fire that heavily damaged the structure. As he watched them work, Wheeler said knew something was wrong as soon as he heard a large boom coming from overhead.

“I heard a pop, like a bomb went off,” he said.

He left his apartment and headed down the hallway. He soon learned the building was on fire. He started knocking on doors to get people out of the eight other apartments in the three-story structure located one block east of the city’s riverfront.

Shortly before that a Fulton man, who spoke on the condition he not be identified, was driving north on Fourth Street in the city’s downtown area. As he made a right turn onto 10th Avenue, he looked left and saw smoke coming from the top of the 125-year-old building. He drove to the building and was met by a little girl who said the apartment building was on fire and her mother was inside.

The man used his cell phone to call 911 and went inside to start knocking down doors. He was joined by a young man and an officer. The man said he heard a loud explosion that sent glass shattering around him and he was forced to get out of the building.

Soon, firefighters from both sides of the Mississippi River — Thomson, Cordova, Rock Falls, Morrison, Albany, Erie, Chadwick and Sterling in Illinois as well neighboring Clinton — were called to the scene. Massive amounts of water were poured on the structure for hours after the blaze began.

The building is owned by ADR Enterprises, an Illinois company. Pastor Rob Miltenberger of the Victory Center Rescue Mission in Clinton is one of the building’s owners. He was at the scene Friday as firefighters worked to contain the fire. While working to make sure everyone living in the building was accounted for, he also arranged housing for the fire victims.

“I’m happy everybody’s alive,” he said. “That’s all I care about.”

Miltenberger did have concerns about the residents living in the one apartment on the third floor. He said he wasn’t sure where one tenant was, but that person’s car was gone, so he was assuming the resident was not at the apartment when the fire broke out.

Sally Mitchell, who lives in apartment No. 7, moved to the building in January. She said she was at work at Néstlé-Purina in Clinton when she got a call telling her the building was burning. She watched it burn with tears in her eyes.

Cyndi Kaufman also was teary-eyed as she waited to talk with Gateway Area Red Cross workers at the fire station. She was at the station on behalf of her son, 24-year-old Adam, whom she said got out of the building with only the shorts he was wearing and his wallet. He was very shaken by the fire and left to go ride a Jet Ski on the Mississippi River.

As firefighters continued to battle the blaze, the city’s streets were full of onlookers. The unnamed Fulton man, who recently had heart surgery, had himself checked over after helping at the fire. He then came back and walked around the scene, looking for the little girl who told him about the fire and her mother.

Boyjiski watched as water was poured into the top of the building and then came rushing out her second-story apartment window.

“We’re awfully lucky this didn’t happen at night,” she said.

Wheeler was happy his Pomeranian, Peanut, got out alive. The dog was rescued and some of this neighbors were watching the dog for him as Wheeler stood a block away from the burning building.

Red Cross workers said rooms will be reserved for the victims at two Clinton motels as they work to get back on their feet.

In a phone interview with the Clinton Heraldlate Friday, Fulton Fire Chief Don Damhoff said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

The Illinois State Fire Marshal and other investigators will continue examining the remains of the building on Monday. Damhoff said an estimate of the damage is not yet available but said the building may be a total loss and may have to be torn down. More than 20 area departments assisted in extinguishing the blaze.

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