UPDATE: Investigations into four vacant building fires continue

Published: Jul. 5, 2017 at 2:45 PM CDT
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Updated: July 10, 2017

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) – Investigators continue to look for answers to four downtown Rockford vacant building fires that happened within two weeks of each other.

The State Fire Marshall’s Office has jumped in to help Rockford Fire investigators work through the cases. The Fire Marshall’s Office says once they are on scene, they are doing whatever the can to help close the case.

“We start with the least amount of damage and go to the most severely damaged and we look for anything that might help us out as far as what could be the cause of origin and where the fire was at,” says Arson Investigation Division Manager Chris Valentine.

Rockford Fire Department Division Chief Matt Knott has said other work has been suspended to help with the investigation into the four recent fires.


Updated: July 6, 2017

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) -- Finding out what or who is sparking fires in vacant buildings in Rockford is the fire department's top priority.

Rockford Fire Department Division Chief Matt Knott says it's "clear we have a fire problem" after a fourth vacant building is destroyed in an early morning fire on Thursday. The first fire happened at the old Hanley Furniture building on June 25th, followed by a fire on 7th Street a week later on July 2. On July 4, a third Rockford downtown building caught fire in the 800 block of South Main Street.

Investigators are actively working on finding out what sparked a fire in the 600 block of 7th Street, the site of Thursday's fire.

Three of the four walls of the building in the 600 block of 7th Street collapsed as crews tried to put the flames out. Crews say the building is not structurally sound, causing an emergency demolition.

Part of the north wall of the building fell on a nearby bar, however it is unclear the amount of damage the bar sustained.

Mayor McNamara and Rockford Fire addressed the latest in the investigations with all four recent fires. Mayor McNamara says the City of Rockford has been ravished by the fires in the last ten days and wants the community to know the City is working diligently to investigate the fires which Rockford Fire is now saying could be linked and are investigating as possible arson.

The Fire Department says they are treating all the fires as independent scenarios and have confirmed that there was no electricity in either the Hanley Building or the fire on South Main Street. Division Chief Knott says arson remains a possibility with some of the fires, but during Thursday's press conference would not confirm which buildings so as not to impede the investigation. Knott says although they are looking at the possibility of arson in some of the fires, they are not ruling out other causes.

"You know when we look at two fires that doesn't necessarily make a trend, but now when we talk about the scope and another fire like this it's definitely something that were looking at. You know again, lets let our investigators do their job and really truly determine those, but definitely I can say that arson is definitely something were expecting in a lot of these fires," says Knott.

Investigators say they hope to wrap up two of the four investigations soon. Division Chief Knott says all of the department's investigators are focused on these four fires, saying they have suspended other activities to continue these investigations. The Illinois State Fire Marshal is also stepping in to help. Anyone with information is asked to call investigators.


Posted: July 5, 2017

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) -- Three vacant downtown Rockford buildings have caught fire in the last two weeks. The Rockford Fire Department weighs in on those investigations and whether or not they are linked to each other.

On Tuesday another building in Rockford’s downtown caught fire. It is the third since the old Hanley Furniture building caught fire nearly two weeks ago.

Many are wondering if there's a link. First the old Hanley Furniture building caught fire on June 25th, followed by a fire on 7th Street a week later. On Tuesday, a third Rockford downtown building caught fire in the 800 block of South Main Street.

Each building was vacant, other than a grocery store at the bottom of the 7th Street location.

Fire crews say they are still investigating the cause of all three of those fires. The Rockford Fire Department says both the Hanley Furniture and 7th Street fires started in the back of the buildings, while Tuesday's fire in the 800 block of South Main Street started from the interior.

Despite the similarities, Rockford Fire Division Chief Matthew Knott says there is nothing to officially link them together at this time.

"We always work to make sure these buildings are secured. We make sure that anything that we consider to be dangerous, we post with a red 'X'. But we are keeping an eye on things. Whether or not any of these are related: that, we haven't been able to determine yet. But each one is being investigated," says Knott.

Knott adds that witness testimony is extremely helpful when it comes to identifying causes of fires, so if anyone sees anything, it is always important to report it.

The 7th Street location is likely to be demolished, according to fire officials, however, it is not confirmed at this time.

No one was hurt in any of those fires.