GILMAN, Ill. (WCIA) — People are helping a family rebuild their lives after a fire destroyed a large building and burned almost everything they had.
The fire happened on Wednesday afternoon in downtown Gilman. While the family made it out safely, there’s still a lot to be cleaned up at the intersection of North Central and 2nd Street.
The Johnson family lost everything the day a fire burned this historic lumberyard building to the ground. They’ve owned that building for nearly 30 years and have lots of memories there. It was their home, and Andrew Johnson was inside when he heard the crackling of a fire.
“I ran to the back of the building, looked up and saw smoke, the flames.”
But he wasn’t about to sit back and do nothing. Johnson is a Gilman firefighter. He called 911 and then started fighting his own fire.
“When the truck first got here and charged the hose line, I grabbed it and started spraying as best I could. I was breaking all the rules going in and out of the fire without my gear.”
But the smoke was too much, so he stepped back and let his team take over. With the help of several other departments, they were able to put the fire out, but not before it burned the entire building to the ground.
“They did everything they could. Their first concern was making sure me and the family were safe, which I greatly appreciate beyond words.”
His crew is a brotherhood and like a second family.
“It was heartwarming.”
But his family’s home and business was destroyed. What they lost can’t be measured in words.
“Everything. For me its 50 some years of life. For my dad and handicapped brother it’s more than that.”
The family ran their business out of their home at old lumberyard building doing custom woodworking, auto repairs, and construction. Their livelihood is gone, but hope isn’t lost.
“I dont know how many people have just said what do you need, what can we do? I just don’t know what to tell them. I’m just so dumbfounded and overwhelmed with the magnitude of this .”
But even without an answer, people have showed up with clothes and money to help them rebuild their lives.
Investigators are still working to find the cause of the fire. All they know right now is it started in the back end of the building.
The Gilman fire chief, Larry Walsh, has been working for the department for almost 30 years. He says this is the biggest fire the town has had in that time. The thick smoke spread to the post office, city hall, the community center and a daycare. But the next morning, embers sparked up again in the old lumberyard rubble.
“What’s really nice about working in a small community like this is when the fire was going, there is a guy that has a big high hoe. He brought it in here so we could get the fire put out faster.”
On Thursday they started cleaning the buildings that have smoke damage.