PROPHETSTOWN — Workers have begun clearing the site of a July 15 fire that destroyed several downtown buildings.
The first steps of the task, taken Thursday. were small — a few men sorting reusable brick and recyclable metal from burned wood and garbage at the back of the damaged block. Around them, the ruins were still a weighty jumble of charred wood, tumbled stone, and wrecked belongings.
Across the alley, signs of the fire's strength could still be seen in the heat-scarred trees whose needles had turned bright orange; a building with melted vinyl siding; and a melted streetlight atop a badly burned utility pole. Some of these were 20 to 40 feet away from the buildings that burned.
The work is being done by Fischer Excavating Inc., of Freeport, which won the contract with a low bid of $207,000.
The fire destroyed or heavily damaged eight joined buildings. Shortly after the fire, police arrested two brothers, 12 and 16, on felony counts of residential arson, arson and criminal damage to property. The cases against them are pending.
Prophetstown Mayor Steve Swanson said Thursday that portions of the damaged buildings that are still upright would be demolished, the whole site would be cleared of rubble, and the basements would be filled. The work is expected to take several weeks.
The city is hoping to rebuild, with any new structures designed to fit the look of the rest of downtown, Mayor Swanson said.
"At least the facade, so it at least blends in," he said.
The city has worked out a deal with seven of the eight building owners in which they will help pay Fischer for the work, with them and their insurance money covering about 70 percent of the cost and Prophetstown handling the rest, Mayor Swanson said. There have also been donations to help with the cost.
The eighth owner has elected to handle the cleanup independently, he said.
This is an improvement for the city from a few weeks ago. In late August, Mayor Swanson estimated that as much as half of the price of the cleanup would be taken on by the city.
"It's looking a lot better now," he said.
Of the eight owners, several have expressed interest in staying, but others are likely to leave, the mayor said.
Part of the deal includes Prophetstown buying lots on the site to be better able to create incentives to entice new businesses to replace any that decide to leave, he said.
Today is Monday, Dec. 9, the 343rd day of 2013. There are 22 days left in the year. 1863 — 150 years ago: All last week were favored with the most delightful Indian summer weather. The mercury ranged from 40 to 65 degrees and the ice is entirely gone out of the river. 1888 — 125 years ago: W.D. Reimers was given charge of the Weyerhaeuser-Denkmann mill in Davenport. 1913 — 100 years ago: Eight hundred or more tons of earth in six landslides, covered 38th Street for a distance of 200 feet near 7th Avenue and destroyed much property. 1938 — 75 years ago: Patrolman Joseph H. Schnelder, of Moline, has been awarded four medals for proficiency in marksmanship. He is the crack pistol shot of the Rock Island district. 1963 — 50 years ago: For the 83rd year, George Frederic Handel's "Messiah" was performed at Augustana College ushering in the spiritual aspect of the Christmas season. 1988 — 25 years ago: A water main break Thursday night, the fourth this week, affected 35 homes near the 2200 block of 39th Street, Rock Island, city officials said today.