MORRIS – Mayor Chris Brown gave a heartfelt statement Tuesday night about the fire at 919 E. Benton St. that caused the evacuation of about 3,000 residents from the east side of town and the work that has gone into fighting the fire, returning the residents to their homes and continuing to keep the citizens of Morris informed and safe.
“Right now, the situation is continuing to be under control and is constantly being monitored out at the paper mill,” Brown said. “We are very fortunate to not have had any deaths or anybody injured, and that is unprecedented. As [Fire] Chief Tracey Steffes has been telling us all along, this is new territory, not only for our first responders, but for first responders all across the country. This fire has truly, in every sense of the word, been very unprecedented. We will not relax until this fire is completely extinguished and eliminated. Moving forward, our focus and our greatest concern is our citizens’ safety. As I stated before, the area will be under constant monitoring and surveillance on an around-the-clock basis for the foreseeable future. Our work, in many ways, has just begun.
“Now, I would like to share my deepest gratitude for so many that are so deserving. First, thank you to our citizens. Thank you for your patience, thank you for your generosity, thank you for pulling together to help our neighbors, our first responders and for helping in any way that you could. No matter what the situation might be, when the call is made for our community to come together, our people never disappoint or fail. I would like to thank our local restaurants for making sure all of us did not go hungry. It was amazing, the generosity and willingness to pitch in. It was only a few short months ago when we were doing all we could to support them through the pandemic. Thank you to all that donated food and services.
“Thanks to my leaders, Chief Tracey Steffes, [Police] Chief Alicia Steffes, City Clerk Lori Werden, City Treasurer Terri Keif, and all of our City Council members for pulling together to make sure people were safe, protected, cared for and informed through this crisis. I applaud all of you. I would like to make a special notice of our chiefs. They and their teams have been working tireless hours without complaint to ensure that our community was safe and that we were always protected throughout the days and the nights. Remember, just because we had this crisis on our hands, the city business and responsibilities did not pause. I am so blessed to work with such impressive leaders and their teams. To every member of our police department and fire department, our community owes you a big thank you. I owe you a big thank you.
“I would be remiss if I failed to thank all of the Grundy County agencies that have all been so instrumental in everything from public safety to providing aid and services to our citizens. Thank you to [Grundy County] Board President Chris Balkema for his efforts and coordination through this past week. Thank you to our governor, JB Pritzker, and the immeasurable numbers of service and support that were made available through various state agencies, including the state police, the Illinois [Environmental Protection Agency] and Illinois Emergency Management Agency. Because of their service, our community was kept safe and will keep us safe as we move forward.
“The support being offered will be ongoing as conditions and air qualities around the site are monitored constantly for obvious safety reasons. Our work together on the old paper mill will hopefully extend into the coming years as we strive for the removal of the paper mill and beautification of this site. It is long overdue. I will be working with the governor and the powers in Springfield and the representatives in Washington to make sure this becomes a reality.
“I would also like to express my gratitude to United States Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Congressman Adam Kinzinger, state Sen. Sue Rezin and Rep. David Welter for their unwavering support for our community.
“Lastly, thank you to every outside municipality, fire department and police department that answered the call to assist and protect our city and helping to manage this situation. Our community is in debt to you, and for that, we will always be indebted. I promise you that our services will be made available to you in your hour of need.
“To all the volunteers that are working behind the scenes to provide help and assistance, you are what makes this city special and the place that it is. Your selfless acts and caring hearts are the soul of our community. Many thanks to the First Christian Church for opening their doors and providing food, shelter and living essentials for the evacuees that were displaced because of the fire, along with everyone from the Red Cross and all their volunteers.
“I know my list of gratitude is a long one, but the list of heroes is just as long. In closing, I just want to say that I am so proud of who we are. I am proud of how we pulled together like we always do, and mostly, I am super proud to be mayor of this incredible city we call home. Thank you.”