EARLVILLE – Matthew W. Jones tried to put out the fire that was consuming his rural Earlville farm house Sunday morning before the blaze killed him and his ex-wife, fire survivor Eric Williams told authorities.
Williams, 48, of Lone Rock, Wis., was sleeping in the living room on the ground floor of the two-story farm house when the heat of the fire woke him about 4 a.m., DeKalb County Sheriff Chief Deputy Gary Dumdie said. Jones, 53, and Williams' sister, Dawn M. Williams, 49, of Ripon, Wis. died in the blaze, authorities said Monday.
“[Eric WIlliams] told us Jones was trying to put out the fire and told him to get out,” Dumdie said. “You can hear on the 911 tape, he tells operators he tried to get back into the house, but the heat was too much.”
Authorities have not yet determined the cause or source of the house fire, but it does not appear to be suspicious, authorities said. The Illinois State Fire Marshal's office and DeKalb County Sheriff's police are continuing their investigation.
Eric Williams called 911 from outside the house at 485 Hyde Road, north of Earlville and just north of the DeKalb-LaSalle County line. He was taken to Mendota Hospital where he was treated for minor burns and released; he has returned to Wisconsin to recover with family.
When Earlville firefighters arrived 11 minutes after receiving the call, the home was fully engulfed in flames, Dumdie said. The home is located at the corner of Svedsen and Hyde Roads in southwest DeKalb County, about four miles north of Earlville.
Jones' and Dawn Williams' bodies were discovered in the basement of the home after it had been destroyed by the fire, authorities said. An autopsy supervised by DeKalb County Coroner Dennis Miller showed both died as a result of the fire and no foul play is suspected.
Jones had lived in the house on his family's farm on and off since 1986, according to Courtney Stryker, who said she had known him since 1986. Stryker called Jones a “free spirit” and “kind of a loner.”
DeKalb County property records show the 40-acre farm is owned by Whitman Farms LLC, based in Mequon, Wis. Fire departments from Earlville, Leland, Paw Paw, Shabbona and Mendota responded to the scene.