Illinois Firefighters Attempt Daring Rescue in Raging Boarding House Fire

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WOOD RIVER -- One person died and others are missing from a massive fire that destroyed a half-block of downtown Wood River on Tuesday.

More than 50 firefighters from at least eight different departments battled a raging inferno that threatened to spread throughout the Wood River and West Ferguson avenues and Lorena Street.

A man was standing in the window of Teresa's Inn on Wood River Avenue trying to get out when firefighters first arrived around 10:45 a.m.

Eleven people lived in the 18-room boarding house, including the owner, Teresa Stevens and her two children.

Although authorities were not able to identify the victim trapped inside his apartment, Don Green, a resident of the building, said the man's name was Doug Kibby.

The first firefighters on the scene tried using the bucket at the end of the snorkel truck to get him out, however they were not able to get close enough to pull Kibby to safety. Firefighters then placed several ladders against the building and climbed up as the smoke continued to get darker and thicker to try to pull the scared man out.

Several firefighters were able to grab a hold of Kibby but he would not climb out of the window. Firefighter Mark Burris Jr. of the Wood River Fire Department, who is also a Madison County Sheriff's deputy was holding Kibby trying to pull him out the window when he collapsed, pulling the two back into the efficiency apartment.

Firefighters were unable to get Kibby out of the building before flames destroyed the two century old buildings. Flames shot through the roof of the building catching everything on fire, including Kumar's Restaurant.

Firefighters moved several trucks away from the front of the building when they began hearing continuous popping sounds, reportedly to be propane canisters in the basement of the building. Burris was walking on the east side of Wood River Avenue toward the trucks when the front wall of the building collapsed, bricks nearly missing him by inches.

Dozens of people watched the blaze in amazement while police officers from Wood River, Roxana and Hartford kept moving the crowd back further and further to keep them out of harms way. The heat from the blaze could be felt a block away.

Several hours after uncontrollable blaze began the corner of Kumar's tumbled into the streets sending rescuers to other areas to try and prevent the walls from crashing into other buildings.

Firefighter John Losch of the Roxana Fire Department was a safety accountability officer for his department in which nine firefighters were on the scene. Losch said another Roxana firefighter kept safety accountability for every firefighter at the scene and their locations.

He said the area was mapped out and tags of those people were kept on a board at all times.

"We have to know where everyone is all the time," he said.

Losch kept made sure all firefighters were taken care of at all times, which included giving them water and having paramedics from Alton Memorial Ambulance Co. check there blood pressure and give them oxygen if needed.

Green watched firefighters tried to save his neighbor shaking his head in disbelief.

"He was so scared," he said.

Green said he jumped out the second floor window of his corner apartment to safety.

"I just got back home and was trying to relax when I started smelling something burning," Green said.

Green said he opened his door and walked into the hallway that was filled with smoke.

"Someone yelled to call 911 the building was on fire," he said.

He said he went back into his room and shut the door, but the smoke just kept getting thick and thicker and was starting to rise.

"I knew there was no way I could go back out into the hallway to get down the stairs," Green said.

He said he then pulled the air conditioner from the front window and crawled out.

"I just jumped from the window," he said. "Thank God the awning was there."

Kim Rogers and her 12-year-old son Chris, were leaving Operation Blessing on East Lorena Avenue when they drove around the corner and noticed smoke coming from underneath the royal blue awning the entire length of Teresa's. Rogers pulled over and asked her son to go get help.

"He ran to the Police Station," Rogers said.

Chris said he ran as fast as he could to Wood River City Hall, less than one block away, to tell them there was a lot of smoke coming out of the building.

"There weren't any flames yet," Chris said.

Rogers said as she waited for her son to get back she watched Green climb out the window and slide down the canvas. She said police officers were telling Kibby to keep his head out the window so he could breath better.

"It's really sad," she said.

Wood River Mayor David Ayres along with Councilman Fred Ufert watched from the parking lot of city hall with many of the town's employees.

"It's awful," Ayres said.

Ayres said dozens of volunteers were assisting both the police and fire departments.

Steve Palen, director of public services in Wood River, said that crews turned on a second pump at the water station to be able to keep up with water being used by firefighters from the city two towers.. He said the main pump allows water to be dispersed at 2,000 gallons per minute from the second pump pushes 1,000 gallons per minute.

"They've used around a half-million gallons so far," said Palen nearly four hours after the blaze began. He added that firefighters shut down two pumpers when the city shut of the second pump so the towers, a 250,000 gallon tank and 500,000 gallon tank, could refill.

Thomas Oil Company of Wood River also came to the scene to refuel fire trucks that had been running for more than four hours straight.

The area fire departments involved in the days events included Wood River, East Alton, Roxana, Hartford, Edwardsville, Alton, South Roxana and Rosewood Heights.

Fire Chief Steve Alexander said its too early to determine the cause of the fire and called in investigators from Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms along with the Illinois State Fire Marshall's office.