The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

July 16, 2013

Prophetstown residents share their stories in fire's aftermath

By Samantha Pidde
Herald Staff Writer

PROPHETSTOWN, Ill. — It was a firefighter in her apartment who awakened Delores Francis early Monday morning with the news that a building in the same strip as hers was on fire.

She left her downtown Prophetstown apartment — which sat above her business of 35 years, D’s Variety & Crafts — and, in doing so, left everything behind.

“I wish I had picked up my photo album,” Francis said, adding that she now knows she had time to grab it since when she left her apartment at 3 a.m. the fire had not yet reached her building at 336 Washington St.

“Flames were high in the sky and sparks were flying,” Francis said.

From 3:30 a.m. on, she watched the fire spread from Cindy Jean’s Restaurant at 324 Washington St. to her own building. By early afternoon, Francis, who had not been allowed back into her building to view the damage, expected it to be a great loss and she was making plans to stay with relatives for the next few days.

Meanwhile, Josh Eriks shared fond memories of his mother’s restaurant. Cindy Jean Eriks opened her namesake business, Cindy Jean’s, five years ago when Josh was still in high school. While he was saddened by the loss of the restaurant, Eriks was glad there were no fatalities.

“I’m just glad all of the people made it out alive,” Eriks said. The Prophetstown Fire Department confirmed no one was injured.

He said his mother was home above the business, when she saw flames out back at approximately 2:30 a.m. and called the fire department.

More than 30 fire departments responded to the fire, as well as the Rock Falls, Ill., chapter of the American Red Cross. At least eight businesses were destroyed by the fire. The cause is not yet known.

Karen Nelson, from the Red Cross’ disasters services, helped four families living in the buildings. Volunteers provided food and water to the firefighters.

Leo and Joanie Stewart stood behind the yellow police tape Monday afternoon, looking at the charred buildings.  The couple have lived in the community their entire lives and have a lot of memories attached to all of the buildings.

“My kids thinks her (Eriks’) cooking is better than mine,” said Joanie Stewart about the destruction of Cindy Jean’s Restaurant. “So it’s a great loss.”

She hoped the community would pull together to help those affected by the fire, adding that Prophetstown really pulls together. She expressed concern for the business owners.

“It’s terrible,” Stewart said. “Because all of these businesses lost everything.”

Francis said she had talked about retiring a few years ago and she will not rebuild.

“This will be the end,” she said.

Buildings affected by the fire already were being demolished Monday afternoon. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined. The Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office is assisting in the investigation.