Originally Posted by The DeKalb Daily Chronicle
Blower caused church blaze
Investigators say backdraft is largest recorded in U.*.
By Chronicle Staff
SYCAMORE - Material left burning after a small fire on Feb. 8 likely caused a second and much more destructive fire the next day at St. John'* Lutheran Church, 327 *. Main St.
The 65-year-old church was gutted in the Feb. 9 fire that caused approximately $4 million in damage and sent two firefighters to the hospital. Brad Belanger, who suffered first- and second-degree burns to his hands, will return to work in the beginning of March. Bill Reynolds, who underwent emergency surgery for a broken leg, will be transferred soon from St. Anthony Medical Center in Rockford to a rehabilitation facility.
Sycamore Fire Chief Bill Riddle announced today the fire'* suspected origin was material still smoldering from a fire the previous day.
On Feb. 8, a smaller fire sparked by a malfunction in the pipe organ'* blower interrupted a service but was controlled by the Rev. Donald Phelps, a paid, on-call firefighter, and Sycamore firefighter and St. John'* parishioner Tal Hickey until the fire department showed up.
The fire department extinguished the fire and "took all necessary and preventative steps," including using a thermal-imaging camera to determine if any smoldering spots remained, Riddle said.
"We're very thorough in removing burnt material and making sure these places are safe," he said, adding that fire is a "funny" creature and even a tiny, undetectable ember left behind can create another fire.
The department and church officials detected no other traces of fire throughout Sunday, although people visiting the church the next day reported the smell of smoke, which they attributed to Sunday'* fire, Riddle said.
The last visitor left the church around 4:15 p.m. Monday. Shortly before 5 p.m., firefighters were notified that smoke was coming from the building.
Arriving on scene, they saw heavy smoke coming from the basement, where the pipe organ'* blower is located and the first fire occurred. When they attempted to open doors to ventilate the building, the fresh oxygen created a backdraft, which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is calling the largest recorded backdraft in the United States. The explosion blew off the building'* roof and injured two firefighters.
"In my 25 years, I've never seen a building blow up with such violence," Riddle said.
After the 18 or so investigators from the fire department, state fire marshal'* office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms concluded the investigation Wednesday, the church'* insurance company took possession of the property to form its own conclusions and to make the site safe for demolition.
Since Sunday, the congregation has made its temporary home in the auditorium at Sycamore High School. Phelps has vowed that the congregation will build a new church.
St. John'* congregation traces its roots back to 1876, when members first began meeting in a private home near Hinckley.