DeKALB – After an eight-hour fire Friday night that ravaged Standard Roofing Company and everything inside the building at 1100 S. Seventh Street, cleanup is priority.
"Our main concern is making sure it's secure," DeKalb Fire Chief Jeff McMaster said.
All that remains of the longtime DeKalb business, owned by multiple generations of the Theisen family since 1961, is the four outer walls after the fire Friday left the building unfit to enter, an almost $1 million loss. Dozens of firefighters from 10 neighboring agencies, led by DeKalb firefighters, worked for three hours to get the fire under control, and it took them until about 3 a.m. Saturday to leave the scene.
The location provided many challenges for the firefighters, including fallen power lines, a large amount of combustible material inside, flammable liquids, hazardous materials and the compromised building structure. The fire started about 6:50 p.m., but it had spread by the time firefighters arrived and flames could be seen shooting through the roof. The cause has not yet been determined.
Workers from Lion Fencing put up a chain-link fence around the building, and Nicor and fire department staff were on scene to assess the damage. Because the fire was so extensive, everything on the inside was destroyed, McMaster said.
"Anything that was consumable in the building is gone," McMaster said. "And with the structural defects from the fire that's in the walls, I would have to assume it would be coming down, but that would be completely up to the insurance company."
The family's commercial insurance agent, Patrick Fagan of Crum Halsted Agency, who is a former alderman for DeKalb's 4th Ward, was on the scene Friday.
McMaster said that because of the extensive interior damage and unstable walls, fire investigators cannot enter the building, although they spent Saturday interviewing people who were involved in reporting the fire, and reviewing video to try to determine a cause.
"Inside the building, there were propane tanks," McMaster said. "Also a sea of containers, solvents, and adhesives, and when that heats up, they're going to let loose. They will not be able to get into the building. It's completely unsafe to go into."
Witnesses said they heard explosions before the fire was reported, he said.
The Sycamore Police Department reported calls from residents about a burning chemical smell and a slight haze in some areas of town, likely from the fire raging nearby.
"With the type of material that was stored in the building, you're going to get that heavy petroleum smell," McMaster said. "You can smell smoke from a long distance away from bonfires. So typically, when you have a petroleum-based fire, that odor is going to carry."
He said the odor itself was not harmful, and crews were monitoring surrounding areas and the firefighters on Friday night just in case.
"We knew we had homes behind the business and across the street," McMaster said. "So we were monitoring downwind not only for heavy smoke near the homes, but also for burning embers. The embers that did blow around didn't ignite anything. We didn't receive any calls for anybody ill."
McMaster said his heart goes out to the family and employees of Standard Roofing Company and all involved.
"This is a life-changing experience," he said. "You can almost equate it to the death of a family member. So how they cope, where they are going to take it from there, these are unbelievably large decisions to make, and such a well-known company. This is not going to be an easy transition."
This article has been updated with the correct spelling of the family's name. The Daily Chronicle regrets the error.