The fire at the former Kewanee Boiler office building last night is having a major impact on the city. Kewanee Mayor Gary Moore talked with Our Quad Cities News about the devastation the fire brought to the entire town.
“The history is so rich here,” he said. “Thousands of people through the years worked at the boiler shop and the memories that were built here that are now basically up in smoke.” Residents are experiencing a range of emotions after the fire, he said. “Lots of anger, disbelief, disappointment, and just a lot of sadness. People are very disappointed. It’s a shame because I think a lot of times our younger people, they just don’t think of the totality of their actions and what the circumstances can lead to.” Two juveniles have been charged in connection with the fire. Moore said two people were injured in the incident and they were treated and released from a local hospital.
Kewanee is a railroad town, with Amtrak and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) lines running through, and the fire brought that rail traffic to a stop. “You have to consider the railroad – the line crosses right next to this building and so the railroad was halted for many, many hours,” Moore said. “I’m sure that they are seeing some losses and delays for their traffic that would have been coming through. It affects a lot of people in a lot of different businesses that people wouldn’t normally expected to affect.” He said the line was reopened about 3 a.m. today and business was back to normal.
The mayor was quick to praise everyone involved, either with the fire or finding the suspects. “We had all three of our city departments that generally work with the public; our fire department, as well as our police department; they were here for traffic control and also assisting the Fire Department. Our Public Works Department, they were out here putting up barricades. They were also out here helping in clearing some debris out of the way so that the fire department could get to some of the hotspots to pour water on those hotspots.” As for finding the suspects, “it does take a lot of good work, and it requires a lot of luck as well, but it also requires input from the public and eyewitnesses. We had an eyewitness report, and then there were some other things that came in that were put together. To make an arrest this quickly, less than 24 hours, that’s phenomenal. I’m extremely proud of our police department and also the community members who got involved in providing information that led to the filing of charges.”
The fire may jeopardize a planned memorial at the site. “The preservation group had planned on putting up a memorial that would sit in the parking lot across the street that would resemble the building in its heyday,” Moore said. “I don’t know what they’re going to do with that now. I hope that they still consider that and follow through with that, even though they don’t have the building that will be standing behind it.” He said the property where the building stood recently was sold at a public auction, so it’s up to the property owner to decide the next steps.
Moore seemed stunned thinking about the fire. “It’s just yesterday this time that building was still standing.”