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Fire destroys Pine Bluff home

Sheriff: Fire suspicious in nature; ISP handling probe

The early morning Saturday fire that destroyed a home on Pine Bluff Road is being called suspicious and is still under investigation.

A fire destroyed the residence at 855 E. Pine Bluff Road. The call came in at about 2:45 a.m. and became a box alarm, calling in MABAS 15 fire departments to assist in putting out the fire, said Chief Tracey Steffes of the Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District.

Sheriff Kevin Callahan said Monday the fire was suspicious. Pine Bluff Road would normally be the Grundy County Sheriff Department’s jurisdiction, but the home belongs to an employee of the sheriff’s department, so he asked the Illinois State Police to investigate.

“It belongs to a current employee who is off on medical leave with the department. I felt more comfortable having an outside agency do the investigation,” Callahan said.

A press release Steffes issued Monday lists the owners as Jason and Rhonda Lawford. Jason Lawford is the sheriff’s department employee, according to a previous Morris Daily Herald article.

Rhonda Lawford is a dispatcher for the Grundy County Emergency Telephone System Board, according to the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials website.

In March, state police also lead an investigation that resulted in Jason Lawford being cited for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident after he hit four stopped cars and plowed through the front of Soaps Laundromat at 304 E. High St., Morris.

Steffes could not say on Monday if the fire was suspicious or not. He said he was waiting on “evidence collected at the scene from the crime lab.”

The Saturday fire totaled about $350,000 in damage to the structure and its contents. A neighbor was injured by some glass while rescuing a dog, said Steffes. The owners were not at the house when responders arrived on scene.

The neighbor was treated and released from Morris Hospital. Damage also occurred to the outside of a neighboring home to the west.

When the fire engine arrived, fire was showing and within minutes was coming through the roof, said Steffes. Responders were on the scene most of the day Saturday.

“The fire is suspicious in nature and the Morris fire department, Illinois State Fire Marshall, Illinois State Police and Illinois state crime scene services are investigating the fire,” said Callahan.

State police confirmed they were investigating and working with the state fire marshall on the investigation.

The Morris area has seen a fair amount of fires in the last year, said Steffes, but other than Saturday’s fire, all of them have been accidental or not considered abnormal.

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