GENOA – Amy Allen was happy to find her sister's family cat, Fluffers, alive and well Tuesday after a fire destroyed the family's single-story home in the River Bend subdivision.
"One of the first things I said when I arrived was, 'where's Fluffers?' " Allen said. "At about 3 a.m. we found him, wet and scared, hiding behind a box in the basement."
Allen's sister, Brandy Ballantine, and her three children were visiting Ballantine's mother. Ballantine's longtime boyfriend, Eric Peterson, lives with them. He was at work about 10:40 p.m. when a neighbor reported the roof of their house at 307 Stearn Road was on fire.
"It's a godsend that it worked out like that," Peterson said. "Right now, we're all OK."
The fire destroyed the home and much of its contents, leaving family, friends and local churches rushing to help Tuesday.
An Illinois State Fire Marshal representative visited the site Tuesday as authorities investigated the cause of the fire, but they suspect the home was struck by lightning during the second wave of storms that blew through DeKalb County on Monday.
If lightning is to blame, the destroyed home is the area's most significant storm damage.
The City of DeKalb received more than 1.5 inches of rain overnight into Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service in Chicago. Almost an inch of that rain fell over a 20-minute span, with wind gusts estimated at more than 50 mph.
Utility poles were damaged near Sycamore and Cortland, said Gary Dumdie, the DeKalb County Sheriff's chief deputy. A power transformer caught fire near the intersection of Route 23 and Perry Road south of DeKalb, and a tree caught fire near Somonauk and Harter roads outside of Cortland.
South of DeKalb County, in Earlville, a tornado left at about 36 homes with structural damage and damaged two grain bins outside of town.
In Genoa, Peterson's home was considered a total loss, with the roof of the garage destroyed along with most of the home's contents. The damage was estimated at $180,000, said Ryan Stoffregen, assistant fire chief for the Genoa-Kingston Fire Protection District.
Peterson's cousin, Bob Barnett, lives nearby and was the first to let Peterson know. Peterson thought his cousin was joking when he called him to say his house was on fire.
"For about 10 or 15 minutes I thought he was joking," Peterson said. "Then he texted me a picture of my house."
The photo showed the home engulfed in flames.
By the time firefighters arrived, the entire garage roof had burned, Stoffregen said. Peterson and his family planned to stay with relatives while they line up temporary housing through their insurer.
On Tuesday, Allen was helping Peterson, along with other family and friends, salvage pieces from the home. She grabbed paperwork, photos, and her niece's sports trophies.
The home next door at 309 Stearns was evacuated because it had begun to catch fire and the home's siding had begun to melt. Jeff Williams, who lives in the next-door house, said he was out but his wife and daughter were home at the time. The house has no windows on that side, and so the family didn't know about the fire next door until police knocked on their door.
"It was very scary, and they were shook up," Williams said of his family. "They were able to grab the dog and get out."
Firefighters from Kirkland, Sycamore, Hampshire and Marengo all responded and it took about two hours to bring the fire under control.
Trinity Lutheran Church is collecting donations until July 11 for the residents of the home. The family is mostly in need of clothes, said Amanda Bagsby, Trinity Lutheran Church secretary.
"I guess everything happens for a reason," Peterson said.
• Staff writers Lawerence Synett and Doug Oleson contributed to this story.
How to help
Local churches are collecting donations for the Genoa family whose house burned after a suspected lightning strike Monday. Donations can be dropped from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday through July 11 at Trinity Lutheran Church, 33930 N. State Road, in Genoa.
Items needed include girls clothing sizes 6, 14-16; baby clothes size 18-24 months; men’s extra large T-shirts; women’s medium T-shirts; men’s 33-34 pants; and women’s 8-9 pants.