As firefighters battled through sweltering temperatures to contain a Morris house fire Wednesday, neighbors pitched in to help keep firefighters hydrated.
A table was set up on the street nearby, and neighbors brought out water and sports drinks for the responders.
"It was so hot outside," one neighbor said Thursday. "It was hot even for us standing out here. It must've been even worse for [firefighters] with all their gear on."
"Everybody helped out," she said. "It seemed like a teamwork thing."
The cause and origin of the blaze have yet to be determined, although Morris Fire Chief Tracey Steffes indicated it is “considered not to be criminal in nature.”
At 7:19 p.m. Wednesday, the Morris Fire Protection & Ambulance District responded to a structure fire at 1055 Park Boulevard.
Heavy fire was showing on the front of the house upon arrival, according to Chief Steffes. The fire was moving from the first floor to the second floor.
Neighbors reported the owner of the home might be inside and sleeping in an upstairs bedroom, so — despite “extremely hazardous” conditions inside the house — a search team went above the fire.
“It’s a hard choice as chief to send [firefighters] into such dangerous conditions,” Steffes said. “But it’s a risk-and-benefit scenario. If we think someone is in danger, we’re going to try to find them.”
The homeowner, it turned out, was out of town and nobody was in the house. The homeowner arrived at the scene later in the evening.
Wednesday’s hot weather — part of a heat wave expected to last until the weekend —proved a challenge for emergency responders.
Three firefighters were transported from the scene to Morris Hospital by ambulance for heat-related issues. All were treated and released. One of the three also suffered a hand injury.
Steffes ordered a 211 alarm, higher than a typical structure fire, so firefighters could be rotated out frequently and stay hydrated. He also called seven ambulances to the scene as a precaution.
The fire caused an estimated $350,000 in damages — $250,000 to the structure and $100,000 to belongings.
The fire was contained by responders and did not cause damage to neighboring houses.
Investigators were on the scene until 1:30 a.m. Thursday. Steffes reported Thursday afternoon that the Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District, MABAS 15 Fire Investigators and the Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office were continuing the investigation into the cause and origin of the fire.
“All agencies are working to complete our investigation as soon as possible so the site can be cleared of all debris for the safety and health of the neighborhood,” the chief said.
Steffes also remarked about the neighbors who brought water to firefighters and showed support for the homeowner during the fire on Wednesday night.
“That goes to show the community support,” Steffes said. “When you have an incident that’s large scale like this, the community steps up.”
He said he was proud of the work of the firefighters in Wednesday’s blaze.
“They showed up and performed their job,” Steffes said.