One person missing, presumed dead, in Sterling fire’s aftermath

City manager: ATF’s ‘state-of-the-art technology’ will be used to investigate the cause

The Illinois State Fire Marshal is on the scene investigating an early morning fire at 406 East Third Street in Sterling.

STERLING – One person is missing and presumed dead after a fire Friday that demolished a three-story apartment building at 406/408 E. Third St. in downtown, City Manager Scott Shumard said in a news release late Friday.

The family of the deceased was notified, but the name is being withheld pending further notifications, Shumard said in the release, which was emailed to the media around 10:35 p.m.

In the original release, Shumard said two people were missing. He did not explain the discrepancy in the update, except to say the missing person was identified “following further investigation.”

A woman who was injured after jumping from a third-floor window remains in the Critical Care Unit at OSF St. Anthony Medical Center in Rockford, he said.

A cause of the fire has not been determined, and no preliminary cause was released.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, one of the agencies investigating, “is dispatching a response team from the Chicago Field Division with certified fire Inspectors to collect and analyze evidence with state-of-the-art technology,” Shumard said in the update.

He did not say why the ATF is involved.

The recovery of the victim, the ongoing investigation, the instability of the building and its pending demolition means the city will keep East Third/state Route 2 closed from First to Fifth avenues for several days. Truck traffic must access Route 2 via state Route 40 and Lynn Boulevard.

Sterling police and fire departments, the state fire marshal, and the Illinois State Police Crime Scene Investigations unit also are investigating. The crime scene unit will gather and document evidence as a matter of course, in case the fire turns out to be suspicious.

The fire began about 2:20 a.m., when firefighters arrived to find flames throughout the third story, heavy smoke throughout the building and a report of people trapped inside, Shumard said in the original release Friday morning.

A man and a girl who escaped to an adjacent roof were treated for minor injuries and released.

According to Whiteside County property tax records, the building is owned by Mihail “Mike” Mihalios of Chicago.

Mihalios, 71, also owns 412/414 E. Third St., which is the two-story building due east, and the empty lot east of that, as well as an apartment building at 605 Ave. B, and a house at 704 Locust St., both also in Sterling, online records show.

A call to him Friday afternoon seeking more information, including the number of tenants at 406/408, was not returned.

According to a recent online real estate listing, the building was built in 1920; it had two commercial storefronts on the first floor and four studio and four one-bedroom apartments on the second and third floors.

Dixon Rural, Dixon City, Milledgeville, Prophetstown, Morrison, Fulton, Polo, Tampico, Erie and Clinton (Iowa) fire departments assisted, as did Rock Falls police and the Whiteside County Sheriff’s Department. The Salvation Army and American Red Cross assisted residents.

The same building was damaged in a fire Feb. 13, 2012, caused when a tenant left a burning candle on a windowsill. No one was hurt in that fire.

Kathleen Schultz

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.