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Local

Authorities condemn second DeKalb apartment building after second suspected arson

50 more residents displaced, police and fire ramping up patrols, seeking outside help

DeKALB – A second building owned by embattled landlord Hunter Properties was condemned by DeKalb Fire Chief Jeff McMaster on Thursday after another suspected arson left 50 additional residents displaced, bringing the number of residents who lost their homes to close to 200 in two days.

McMaster said although the fire, which broke out about 5:15 a.m. Thursday morning at 930 Greenbrier Road, was contained to the garden level after a dryer was set ablaze, the electrical system was damaged, leaving the building condemned and more people homeless.

“When we did the emergency fire inspection, we found many fire code violations, including holes in walls, missing smoke detectors, nonworking exit lights, missing windows,” McMaster said.

The American Red Cross moved its shelter from 507 E. Taylor St. to the DeKalb Park District Sports & Recreation Center, 1765 S. Fourth St., to accommodate the growing number of people in need, according to a news release.

It was the second fire in two days that authorities believe was set intentionally in a Hunter Properties-owned building and adds to a string of suspected arsons that date to 2018, when four fires were set in one week at 808 Ridge Drive.

DeKalb Police Chief John Petragallo said his department is soliciting outside agencies and the public’s help in an attempt to catch whoever is responsible, with no suspect arrested.

McMaster said his department also will put out additional firefighters to do a fire watch and patrol the area overnight.

Two off-duty firefighters will be rehired on an overtime basis to conduct watches in and around Hunter Properties-owned buildings and others identified by DeKalb police as those subject to higher rates of emergency calls.

One year later

Petragallo said he shares the concerns of residents worried about the seemingly unstoppable slew of fires in the area, and hopes 24/7 vigilance, along with cooperative efforts from regional law enforcement agencies, will lead to action.

“Our suspicion is that, like the ones in 2018, while on scene there was somebody that tried to ignite a fire and were able to flee in very short order,” Petragallo said. “So that’s very telling. I’m not saying [the fires] are all connected, we don’t know, but it seems they may be able to flee and conceal themselves. It tells us they’re somewhere near the scene.”

DeKalb police arrested a Ridgebrook Apartments resident Wednesday, who Petragallo said was the face police were able to identify from security camera footage after the fire. He is not being charged in connection with arson at this time.

Timothy Nielsen, 22, a resident of 808 Ridge Drive, was charged with tampering with a security device. If convicted, he could face one to three years in jail. He was released on his signature.

“We reviewed surveillance video and there was a subject on camera that was walking down the third floor hallway look up at a surveillance camera,” Petragallo said. “And within a very brief time the vantage point of the camera had been moved, so the camera was manually moved by hand.”

Petragallo said police enacted a 24-hour watch of the 808 Ridge Drive building for three days after June 26, with one to two officers walking in and around the building soliciting information from residents and developing leads. They will continue 24/7 patrols, he said.

DeKalb police are enlisting the help of the Sycamore Fire Department, the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, Northern Illinois University police, the
Illinois State Fire Marshall and the
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Tuesday, a fire in a common area on the third floor of Ridgebrook Apartment complex, 808 Ridge Drive, condemned the building. Authorities suspect it was set intentionally after mattresses were lit on fire.

The building is owned by Hunter Properties, which also owns the complex at 930 Greenbrier Road, that has 14 units and was built in 1977. Apartments at 808 Ridge Drive were built in 1969 and purchased by Hunter in 2016 for $11.3 million.

“We believe heavily that it’s our responsibility to keep the community safe,” Petragallo said. “So we are truly doing everything we can to ensure that. A lot of things we’re doing are visible but there are some more covert things that you may not see but are very good investigative efforts.”

Anyone with information about these crimes is asked to call DeKalb County Crime Stoppers at 815-895-3272 or email crimestoppers@dekalbcounty.org. All callers can remain anonymous.

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