Cause of fire that destroyed two downtown Mount Morris buildings under investigation

Mt. Morris Fire Captain Mark Lewis washes away soot from Wesley Avenue in downtown Mt. Morris on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 following Tuesday's fire that destroyed two downtown buildings. The buildings were adjoined and did not have a fire wall separating them. Sharky's Sports Bar remained standing on Wednesday. An excavator stands where the other bulding was located. Portions of that building were removed as a safety precaution. An official cause of the fire has yet to be determined.

MOUNT MORRIS – A portion of one downtown building destroyed in Tuesday’s fire has been partially taken down as a safety measure while the other’s charred remains still stand.

Fire Chief Rob Hough and Capt. Mark Lewis were back at corner of West Main Street and Wesley Avenue on Wednesday afternoon, securing barricades around the structures and washing soot off village streets.

“The investigation is still ongoing. There is no cause determined as of this time,” Hough said.

The fire department along with the Mount Morris Police Department, the Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Ogle County Sheriff’s Office, as well as agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, are conducting a joint investigation, according to a news release Hough issued Tuesday night.

Hough and his department received a call at 1:33 p.m. Tuesday after a resident reported seeing flames coming from an apartment in the building at 1 N. Wesley Ave.

When he arrived at the location, Hough and his crew saw heavy smoke and visible flames from the street-level windows of the downstairs apartment.

Hough said the county’s 911 center also received multiple calls about smoke and fire coming from the two-story, wood-frame building.

“There were several occupants exiting the building, as well as attempting to put the fire out,” Hough said in the release. “The fire was growing rapidly and advancing throughout the building. The occupants reported that everyone had exited the building and were accounted for. Strong winds, age and condition of the structure rapidly accelerated the fire.”

Hough said fire crews “proactively evacuated” the building housing Sharky’s bar and, as a precaution, Rockford Bell Credit Union located east of the fire, at 4 E. Main St.

“Several companies utilizing multiple large-diameter hose lines, ground monitors and three tower ladders finally brought the fire under control at approximately 3:45 p.m.,” Hough said.

The fire quickly spread to the bar because of strong winds and the absence of a fire wall separating the two structures. The fire was extinguished by 5 p.m., with most mutual-aid companies released by 7 p.m.

“Firefighters remained on scene performing salvage and overhaul of the structures until approximately 9 p.m.,” Hough said. “There was one injury – an occupant who reported smoke inhalation. They were treated and released on the scene. No firefighters were injured at the incident.”

Social media reports of several pets dying in the fire could not be verified.

Hough said an initial combined damage estimate to both buildings is $300,000.

The Mount Morris Fire Protection District requested a Mutual Aid Box Alarm System Box 15 to the third-alarm level for additional assistance from the following agencies: Advanced EMS; the Byron, Dixon City, Dixon Rural, Forreston, German Valley, Lanark, Oregon, Pecatonica, Polo, Shannon and Stillman fire protection districts; and Ogle County Emergency Management.

Village President Phil Labash praised the quick efforts of the fire department for stopping the fire from spreading to other nearby structures. The buildings were bordered by the Shell gas station on the north, separated by a parking area, and the credit union on the east, separated by a walkway.

Earleen Hinton

Earleen Hinton

Earleen creates content and oversees production of 8 community weeklies. She has worked for Shaw Newspapers since 1985.