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Tag Archive | "chili dogs"

Iconic Rockford eatery destroyed by gas fire


The Corner Bar burned for hours Monday

by Beth Altena and Kellie Lamphere, Rockford Squire

UP IN SMOKE: What started as a dumpster fire progressed into a gas meter explosion and fire fed by gas from the fuel line which consumed The Corner Bar on Monday.

It wouldn’t be the first time all of downtown Rockford went up in flames, but thanks to the persistent efforts of five fire departments, the fire damage was contained to just one building, Rockford’s most iconic structure and business, The Corner Bar. The building was one of few in downtown that survived the fire of 1898, but did not survive the fire of 2017.

Dave Jones, Chief of Rockford Public Safety said his department received a call at about 5 a.m. about a fire in the dumpster behind the building at 31 N Main Street on the west side next to Kimberly’s Boutique. Firefighters put that fire out within five or ten minutes.

Firefighters had just left the building where they had been in the basement evaluating any damage when an explosion occurred that lifted the roof off the building.

“That was the angel on our shoulders,” Jones said. “Four or five firefighters had just walked away from that area.” The heat and pressure from the dumpster fire had damaged the gas meter outside the building and caused the huge explosion. Fed by gas from the fuel line, fire raged for the next four hours as firefighters fought to control the flames.

Firefighters from Rockford were joined by crews from the townships of Algoma, Cannon, Courtland and Plainfield. “We are lucky Rockford is in the center of those four townships,” Jones noted. Unlike the fire of 1898, the firefighters were able to limit the fire damage to just the one structure, although neighboring businesses, closed for the duration.

Jones said first responders put millions of gallons on the structure as DTE Energy tried to locate a shutoff for the gas. “It was like a blow torch,” Jones said of the blaze. Firefighters were unable to shut off gas to the building through the meter, which was the epicenter of the fire, and crews from the energy company were unable to locate a remote shutoff that ran to the building. Eventually, after three hours of gas fed fire, a fuel line under Courtland Street was located and DTE was able to crimp the line and shut down the gas.

“For three hours gas fed that fire, it was like a big blow torch up in all that timber. We were fortunate no one was hurt.” Jones also described to reporters how close together all the downtown buildings are, with some connected to each other.  He said the efforts of the departments contained the fire.

Owner of The Corner Bar business, Jeff Wolfe, said the building will be rebuilt and Jones repeated that at City Council that evening. He called the loss of the building devastating and the business the heart of Rockford.

Owner of the building Andy Tidey, who currently resides in Colorado, was flying in Tuesday to see the damage himself and collaborate with Wolfe on a game plan moving forward. He said the building was insured, but he is surprised by the extent of the damage.

“I never imagined it could all go,” he said. “It’s only a half block from the fire department.” He said he has good insurance on the structure and it is his intent to rebuild and reopen The Corner Bar, which reports say dates back to the 1930s. The business is best known for its chili dogs and its chili dog eating contest, with the record of 43 dogs in four hours.

The restaurant featured Hotdog Hall of Fame names engraved with customers who were successful in eating twelve chili dogs in four hours. According to Mark Bivins of Creative Concepts, who engraves the names, there are records of the people on the plaques and how many dogs they ate.

Tidey said it was his expectation that he and Jeff will put their heads together and plan how to rebuild. “There are a lot of questions and a lot of numbers. I hope that is something we are going to work out.” He said part of what made the restaurant the icon it is the ambiance, the names on the wall and the wooded interior. “That’s what we want to recreate.”

Tidey said he received a phone call from his mother in the early hours of Monday morning and she told him the building was on fire. He was afraid to google it and instead sent a text to Jeff, who told him the whole building was in danger. “He said ‘It’s burning up and they can’t stop it, they can’t stop the gas.’” Tidey said it is shocking to think how different things would have turned out if the meter had not blown.

“It would have been just a little fire, it would have been easy to repair.”

Rockford firefighters said the same thing. Ken Phillips Jr. said first responders were thrilled when they put the smaller fire out. “We’re going to look like heroes because we saved the Corner Bar,” he said. Then the explosion happened. “It was just like in the movies, the windows all blew out.”

He said his fellow fire fighters were on the scene for over 20 hours and were grateful for the assistance of the other departments, who worked well with each other and were very professional.

Phillips said the outpouring from the community was overwhelming. Throughout the day over 5,000 people went to the scene and many thanked the firefighters for their efforts. He reported that restaurants brought them food and water throughout the day and night as the structure continued to smoke and smolder.

“That’s Rockford, that’s why people come back or stay in the first place.”

That sentiment was repeated at City Council with members of the public thanking Chief Jones for the hard work of his team and Jamie Davies’ crew, along with the other departments.

The building was purchased from Donald Berg by Corner Bar LLC on March 16, 2001 for $435,000. In 2017 its taxable value was $295,700 for an estimated total value of $591,400, according to the Rockford assessors office.

Phillips said he heard there was speculation about preserving the front façade of the structure and that restoration companies can number the bricks of historic buildings and recreate them.

Tidey said it was too early to even estimate a timeline for rebuilding the structure, “I’m still reeling like everybody else he said the day of the fire.” He did seem confident the business and building would survive even this. “You know it would be great to come back even bigger and more successful.”

On Tuesday evening Jones said that it would be five to seven days before streets surrounding the burned out Corner Bar can safely reopen.

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