Demolition day set for burned-out downtown Sterling building

Inspections of 2 neighboring structures on hold until cleanup is done

The ATF National Response Team has cleared the scene of the downtown apartment building destroyed by a July 7 fire in Sterling. Demolition will need to be handled by the owner himself.

STERLING – The ruins of a downtown Sterling apartment building destroyed in a July 7 fire, which also killed a tenant, will be demolished Sept. 5.

It probably will take two days to get the basement at 406/408 E. Third St. filled and the debris hauled away, said Patrick Burke, owner of Burke Excavating of Tampico.

Burke is doing the work for the building’s owner, Mihail “Mike” Mihalios, 71, of Chicago, and Mihalios’ insurance company; the city is not responsible for the cleanup, City Manager Scott Shumard said.

Burke plans to start about 7 a.m. on the back of the three-story building. It will take two or three hours to knock it down, then the debris needs to be sorted and separated, and the unusable materials hauled to the Prairie Hills Landfill on U.S. Route 30, on the eastern edge of Morrison, he said Monday.

It also has a basement, which must be filled. He can use some of the building’s brick and concrete as filler, but will top it with dirt so it can be seeded, per the city’s request, he said.

That’s the same thing the city did with the lot to the east, where a house was demolished several years ago.

“The city wants green grass on its demolition sites. We’ll make ‘er look pretty,” said Burke, who has 34 years in the excavation and demolition business under his belt, and who also happens to put in the winning bids and do a lot of derelict home teardowns for the city.

There won’t be a lot of material that can be recycled, he said. Once building bricks have been through a fire or have been knocked down and damaged, their integrity is compromised and they’re not suitable to be used again.

It’s also hard to find anyone who wants those that are usable, since they are so common, Burke said.

The fire began about 2:20 a.m., apparently on the third floor of the circa 1920 building.

Juan Antonio “Tony” Anaya, 62, died in the fire, along with Bella, a German shepherd he was dog-sitting. His remains were recovered July 11. An official cause of death is pending autopsy results.

Kimberly Johnson, 56, who jumped from her fiery third-floor apartment, no longer is being treated at OSF St. Anthony Medical Center in Rockford, a spokeswoman there said.

The apartment building had eight apartments on the second and third floors, and 13 tenants. There were two vacant commercial spots on the first floor.

The two-story to the east at 412/414 E. Third St., an apartment building with a laundromat that Mihalios also owns, was unoccupied.

The apartment building to the west, at 302 Fourth Ave. is owned by Kurt & Brian Properties LLC. Its three tenants were evacuated during the fire, and they have not been allowed to return.

Debris from 406/408 fell on both buildings, and they won’t be fully evaluated for potential damage until the rubble is cleaned up, Shumard said.

The cause of the fire is not yet known to local officials – the ATF National Response Team, which is taking the lead in the investigation into the cause, has not yet turned in its report to Sterling police and the city.

Once it does, the city will make that information public, Shumard has said.

Shumard also has stressed that the city asked for assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives team solely because of the expertise of its certified fire investigators, who are special agents with highly specialized arson-detection training and who have access to the latest in investigative technology.

Mihalios has said he believes the fire was set deliberately.

“It was not an accident. It was something else. Maybe drugs? I don’t know,” he said.

He also said the building, which he has owned since 2005, had working smoke alarms.

Have a Question about this article?
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.