DeKALB – About 50 firefighters from several area departments were at Standard Roofing Co. in DeKalb for hours Friday after the building caught fire and was engulfed in flames.
"It's likely a total loss," DeKalb Fire Chief Jeff McMaster said. "Standard Roofing is a well-known gem in our community, so our hearts go out to them for their loss."
The building was deemed unfit to enter, according to a Saturday morning press release, and the damage done totals almost $1 million. Dozens of firefighters from nine neighboring agencies worked for three hours to get the fire under control, and until almost 3 a.m. Saturday to clear the scene, the release states. The location provided many challenges for the firefighters, including fallen powerlines, heavy fire load, flammable liquids, hazardous materials, and the compromised building structure.
The Sycamore Police Department reported calls from residents of burning chemical smell and a slight haze in some areas of town, likely from the fire raging nearby. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
The fire started about 6:50 p.m. at the Standard Roofing building at 1100 S. Seventh St., but it had spread by the time firefighters arrived, and flames could be seen shooting through the roof.
DeKalb firefighters responded almost immediately because the business is next door to Fire Station No. 2.
However, crews quickly realized the fire was so strong that they needed backup.
"We went into defensive operation immediately," McMaster said. "It was already a fully engulfed fire when we arrived. Flames were shooting out of the roof."
About 8:15 p.m., McMaster said, all four walls of the building were ready to collapse at any time.
Standard Roofing is a family-owned and operated roofing contractor that was established in 1961 and is a multigenerational family business. Members of the family sat in McMaster's squad car Friday as they watched the building go up in flames.
The family's commercial insurance agent, Patrick Fagan of Crum Halstead Agency, who is a former alderman for DeKalb's 4th Ward, also was on hand Friday.
"It's just a shame when you think about the history of the building," Fagan said.
The building's roof bent inward as hoses from three different ladder trucks worked together to fight the fire.
The roofing contractor specializes in single-ply, built-up and modified roofing systems for industrial and commercial buildings, according to its website.
McMaster said it's likely that materials involved in the business' operations were flammable and exacerbated the fire. Standard Roofing's contract work includes flat or low-sloped roofs.
At 10 p.m., flames still were visible from the roof near the back of the building, where debris was ignited, causing crews to switch tactics.
DeKalb's newest ladder truck, Fire Engine No. 1, took point, although its hose was shut off for a few minutes to make room for a ladder truck from Rochelle, which was maneuvered to the side of the building between Standard Roofing and a neighboring church.
"We temporarily shut down the operation because we had to reposition," McMaster said. "We shut down our hoses, relocated the truck [and] put them at a vantage point where they [could] hit those large piles of burning debris."
Firefighters from Sycamore, Cortland, Rochelle, Genoa-Kingston, Malta, Burlington, Lee, Maple Park and Shabbona were among those at the scene.
McMaster said he didn't expect to turn away any crews until closer to 11 p.m.
Onlookers across the street stood outside their homes in the snow to watch the flames as firefighters from DeKalb's Fire Engine No. 1 operated the ladder truck's hose system. Officials came up to McMaster to strategize how to make use of another water hose.
"Right now, we have absolutely no idea what started it at the moment," McMaster said.
McMaster said the roofing company's owner said that there were no people in the building at the time of the fire.
McMaster said he did not believe there were any injuries.
"There's no life danger, meaning there's nobody inside and nobody in danger now, so we're not going to endanger any firefighters' lives," McMaster said.
As of 10:15 p.m., Seventh Street was blocked off from Taylor Street to Fairview Drive and Southmoor Drive going east.
DeKalb police Officer Sadie Pristave was in charge of traffic control a few blocks away.
"Those guys are working hard over there," she said while directing traffic. "Maybe next time I'll remember my leg warmers."
As temperatures fell Friday night, firefighters were rotated in and out of duty and taken to the neighboring Fire Station No. 2, which also acted as a warming center.
"Cortland Fire Department is taking vitals, making sure that everybody is healthy and hydrated," McMaster said. "We're rotating them in and out until we have this fire completely extinguished."
As firefighters worked to get the blaze under control, many would remain at the scene overnight to monitor the building and put out any hot spots, or recurring flames that may reignite, McMaster said.
He said he will lead a fire investigation into the early-morning hours Saturday to determine the cause of the fire.
"This is a great loss, but I feel confident they'll be able to rise from this tragedy," McMaster said. "At this time, we're doing the very best we can to extinguish the fire and see what we can salvage from within their building."
This article has been updated with information provided from a press release from the DeKalb Fire Department released early Saturday morning, including estimated damage cost.