Morris Fire Chief Tracey Steffes was heading home from a fire Saturday when he saw gray smoke a mile or two up the road.
It had already been a weird day. On his way to assist with a fire in Custer Park, another fire nearby needed assistance and he had to go there.
Saturday was mostly dry and very windy -- conditions, Steffes said, that are prime for brush fires to get out of control.
Soon after he saw the smoke on his way home, it turned from gray to black. And that’s when he knew it had likely caught a structure.
By the time he pulled up, the brush fire had spread to two Braidwood homes.
One resident, who had evacuated, re-entered the house trying to get his dogs out.
Steffes, as crews made their way to the scene, went in with him.
“You wouldn’t believe how fast the fire was moving,” Steffes said. “Conditions were changing by the second.”
The fire moved through the house.
Steffes said that gusting winds made the fire spread more quickly and that the fire conditions in the house got worse and worse at a rapid pace.
“Once it entered the back of the structure, it was like a blow torch,” Steffes said.
Soon enough, it was clear: they would have to leave without the animals.
Steffes had to get the guy out of there.
“No humans got hurt and that’s the good news here,” Steffes said.
“The structures were lost by the time the first crews arrived,” he added.
“We did have property damage, we did lose the animals, but they’ll be able to rebuild,” Steffes said, adding that, as someone who likes dogs, it is sad they did not make it.
“I probably would have done the same thing [as the resident],” Steffes said.
Northern Illinois FireGround praised Steffes over Facebook and Twitter for his actions.
“Let’s take a minute to give a pat on the back to Morris Fire Chief Tracey Steffes for helping to rescue those residents,” the group wrote. “This has been a very chaotic, scary incident ...these are professionals and they are doing a heck of a job with a ton of calls and fires.”
There were a number of area fires over the weekend, including a garage fire in Coal City, a garage fire in Marseilles twith a fatality, and a house fire in Wilmington that cost a former Wilmington firefighter and his family their home and possessions.
Steffes said it was fortunate that he came upon the Braidwood fire.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” he said.