Rockford Dealing With Uptick In Vacant House Fires

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A fire which tore through a house on Rockford’s west side, early Wednesday morning, is believed to be intentionally set.

It started around 4 a.m. in the 800 block of Island Avenue. Neighbors at the scene said the home was unoccupied.

Fire officials suspect arson is to blame for the cause of the fire.

It caused an estimated $50,000 in damages to the vacant home; additional damage was done to a neighboring home.

It’s the fourteenth time a vacant home has caught fire so far this year. By July of 2015, eight fires had been reported.

Division Chief Matt Knott from Rockford Fire Department says, “Our analyst is going through, looking at where all these [vacant] building are. We’re marking structures, so we’re putting those up in some buildings that are set for demolition, and [we] make sure they are secured.”

Rockford fire investigators say they arrested 25 year old Andre Cotton last week for allegedly torching a home at 224 Smith Avenue.   

Fire Prevention Coordinator for the Rockford Fire Department, Tim Morris, says, “Once we were able to get approval for charges, we did a post interview [with Cotton], and what he stated in that interview secured what we believed. That’s why he’s still in jail.”

Morris says Cotton was also charged with Aggravated Bodily Harm since a firefighter hurt their back battling the blaze.

Knott says fighting blazes at vacant homes put firefighters at greater risk. He adds, “Fires in vacant structures are generally not notified right away, so the fires are a little bit more deep seated, they have the ability to spread across that structure a little bit more.”

The injured firefighter made a full recovery and is back on the job. Cotton is being held in the Winnebago County Jail. His next court date is August 25th.

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