As Prophetstown fire damage clean up starts, another local community can relate

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Residents in Prophetstown, Illinois have started to clean up after a fire earlier this week destroyed eight downtown buildings. Another area town knows all too well about recovering from fires. In six years, six fires damaged or destroyed downtown buildings in Aledo.

They’ve been able to rebuild and say Prophetstown will too.

Twelve years ago, late at night on February 14th, 2001, Rita Sedam got a life-changing phone call.

“I said are you kidding me?” she said.

The variety store, a place she worked for seven years, and the building it was in, was on fire.

“Coming into town, I could actually see the reflection of the fire and it just made me sick,” said Sedam.

It wasn’t the first fire in downtown Aledo, and it wouldn’t be the last.

“You’re just looking around thinking, what just happened?” said Sedam.

“It was like a ticking time bomb around here because you really didn’t know what building would be next,” said Pam Myers, Executive Director of Aledo Main Street.

“It was definitely devastating for the community,” said Aledo Fire Chief, Dennis Litwiler.

Six fires in six years. A few of them arson, some electrical, one caused by someone playing with matches, destroying an old hotel and leaving behind its mark and a parking lot.

“We lost one building and that’s one building too many,” said Myers.

But other than that one building,

“Everything else has been remodeled and been able to continue as a downtown business for us,” said Litwiler.

“It was a challenge to do it, to get the stores up and running again and we did it,” said Sedam.

Some of the damaged buildings, re-opened under new names, others revamped. Not long after one of the fires, the city won the title of a Main Street Community.

“These buildings are our assets and we need to protect them,” said Myers.

So when the fire destroyed eight buildings in Prophetstown,

“I thought, that could’ve been us,” said Sedam.

“I instantly just tried to imagine what that would be like,” said Myers.

“But people come together, small towns pull together and make it happen,” said Sedam.

Knowing they’ll make it through because they had that call once too.

Sedam says the amount of people that helped them was unimaginable and she says people will do the same with Prophetstown.