Fire destroys two homes in Godley
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org April 7, 2013 6:02PM
Updated: May 9, 2013 6:34AM
A rash of brush fires that has plagued the area in recent days may have culminated Saturday afternoon with the destruction of two homes in Godley, including one that its owner said was used as a brothel by gangster Al Capone in the Roaring ’20s.
Although the official origin of the fire is under investigation by the Braidwood Fire Department, Kalvin Noonan, who owned the two adjacent homes, said his buildings caught on fire as township workers were burning debris nearby.
“With the excessive wind (Saturday), it blew embers from one side of my property to the other,” he said.
About 15 years ago, Noonan said the park district started a fire that burned his detached garage. After that fire, Noonan converted the garage into an apartment. Neither Noonan’s home nor the apartment is likely to be rebuilt after Saturday’s fire, although it will be up to the insurance company to determine that, he said.
Noonan said the property at 335 S. Route 53 in Grundy County has been in his family for about 25 years. Its claim to fame is a “cathouse” for Capone back when he visited the Riviera Roadhouse and Supper Club, a former Route 66 speakeasy that burned down in 2010, Noonan said.
Noonan, his wife, Virginia, and their two children, Tristan, 16, and Alana, 13, were able to flee the home. Two Chihuahuas survived by hiding in the bathroom under “grandma’s quilt,” Noonan reported. Two cats perished.
Morris Fire Chief Tracey Steffes happened to be driving by the site as he returned home from a Custer Park house fire when he noticed a puff of smoke as he traveled on Route 53. By the time he drove 2 more miles to the scene, both homes were burning.
Steffes said he assisted the homeowners by making sure they left the home and did not return to retrieve belongings or their animals, which is a normal instinctual response to a fire. But it’s dangerous because a fire can turn from bad to unsurvivable in the matter of seconds, he said.
Steffes said he did not want to comment on the cause of the Godley fire because it’s being investigated by Braidwood. But he said if a brush fire is determined to have caused the blaze, that is an example of what can go wrong during even a controlled burn.
He said the area’s dry hot weather last year has led to crispy conditions that make even controlled burns dangerous.
“Everyone thinks we’re out of the drought, but we’re not out of the drought,” he said. “We didn’t have enough snow (this winter) and it’s dry out.”
Dry vegetation mixed with Saturday’s excessive wind led to a very busy day for area fire departments, he added.
“If you look at a 20-mile radius around Joliet, we just had a tremendous amount of fires,” he said.
Steffes had some advice for homeowners: If you’re going to burn, don’t do it on a windy day. Make sure you are abiding by all ordinances for your town and create a fire break that is free of vegetation so the fire can’t get out of control. If it does get out of control, call the fire department and don’t try to battle it yourself.
“It will just grow and grow and grow,” he said.
Deputy Chief Todd Friddle of the Wilmington Fire Department said the problem is regional.
“From Frankfort to Plainfield to Romeoville, this whole county has been busy with brush fires this season,” he said. “It really taxes the resources in the area and it reduces the response to other emergencies.”
For instance, the Wilmington Fire Department was busy putting out a house fire at 21251 W. Curtis Road in Custer Park on Saturday when the Godley fire erupted. Departments from all over the region were then diverted to Godley, and departments from the Mokena, Orland Park and Lockport area had to be called in as backup, Friddle said.
“It’s kind of a domino effect,” he said.