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Family escapes house fire in Geneseo, community mourns loss of former church building

The building is a single-family home that was converted from the former First Baptist Church.
Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 9:05 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 29, 2021 at 8:37 AM CDT
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GENESEO, Illinois (KWQC) - A family of four, which includes a teenager and a pre-teen, escaped a fire that broke out in a Geneseo home Wednesday night. Around 7:42 p.m. Wednesday, multiple 911 calls were placed regarding a fire in the 200 block of West Pearl Street, the Geneseo Police Department said in a media release.

The building is a single-family home that was converted from the former First Baptist Church. Police, Henry County sheriff’s deputies, and the Geneseo Fire Protection District arrived on scene within minutes. Officers and firefighters learned a family of four were able to get out of the building, according to the release. A man was taken by personal vehicle to Hammond Henry Hospital for minor smoke inhalation and was released. No other injuries were reported, according to police. Cambridge and Atkinson fire departments assisted in putting out the fire in extreme heat and humidity.

According to police, there was substantial damage to a large portion of the building which, at the time of the fire, was under construction and not occupied by the residents. The residential portion of the building suffered smoke and water damage, according to police.

Atkinson volunteer firefighter, Grace Hicks responded to the scene. She says she was a member of the former church for about thirteen years before moving to the church’s new location on Ford Road in Geneseo.

“I was shocked. I heard First Baptist Church and it took a minute to sink in and then realized that’s my old church. I ran a little bit faster to that call. Got on the truck and we came here,” says Hicks.

For Hicks, the building holds many memories.

“I was baptized here. I was saved here. My first piano recital was here. My aunt was married here. Lots of happy childhood memories,” Hicks says.

Residents say the former church holds years of history.

“My wife was a little girl when she went to school here and we have four children and they were all raised in this church,” says church member and Geneseo resident Frank Stag.

The building is over 100-years-old.

“It was old but that was okay. We liked it that way, it was comfortable when you went in there. Just a nice place to be on a Sunday morning,” Stag says.

Now the building is left with extensive smoke and water damage.

“It’s pretty sad. All I can remember is all of my childhood memories in there,” Hicks says, “Vacation bible schools, Sunday schools, it’s heartbreaking.”

Due to a large number of people and vehicles arriving in the area to observe the situation, the police department requested the assistance of the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, Atkinson Police Department, and Illinois State Police.

The cause of the fire is under investigation by the Illinois State Fire Marshall’s Office, with the assistance of the Geneseo fire and police departments. Police said at this time, it is believed this fire was accidentally started by ongoing construction work in the home.

Police ask anyone with information to call the Geneseo Police Department at 309-9445141.

Fire crews in Geneseo battle a house fire Wednesday, July 28 in extreme heat
Fire crews in Geneseo battle a house fire Wednesday, July 28 in extreme heat(Lori Claeys Palmgren)
Fire crews in Geneseo battle a house fire Wednesday, July 28 in extreme heat. Credit: Lori...
Fire crews in Geneseo battle a house fire Wednesday, July 28 in extreme heat. Credit: Lori Claeys Palmgren, viewer(Lori Claeys Palmgren)

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