- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 16, 2014

PROPHETSTOWN, Ill. (AP) - The small northwestern Illinois community of Prophetstown has marked the one-year anniversary of a disastrous fire with a ceremony that honored four men who saved a 79-year-old woman.

Dolores Francis was asleep in her apartment at about 3 a.m. on July 15, 2013, when a police officer and three firefighters broke through her door and woke her up.

The apartment building’s roof fell in on her bed 30 minutes later.

“If they hadn’t gotten me up, I’d have never gotten to that stairway,” Francis said. “So I’m lucky. I’m lucky. I’m very lucky.”

The fire destroyed eight buildings in the town’s historic downtown and caused $3 million in damage. Two underage brothers were each sentenced to five years’ probation for starting the fire.

The town commemorated the event Tuesday in Eclipse Square. Francis gave a plaque and a hug to each of her four rescuers - police officer Bruce Franks and firefighters Jamie Melton, Phillip Garrison and Joe Froelinger.

The Rev. Cheri Stewart of Prophetstown United Methodist Church led a prayer in the square, just as she did a year ago after the blaze. And she urged the community to move on and forgive the boys responsible.

“I don’t think, as a community, we’ll ever put this behind us. I don’t think we’ll ever truly be unified in all the hope, unless we let it go,” Stewart said. “We have to let it go. Forgiveness is the most valuable gift we can give to the boys, to their family. And it’s a gift to the community.”

In the year since the fire, seven new businesses have opened downtown, according to Main Street Executive Director Eileen Detra. They include a location for the Prophetstown Historical Society, which was destroyed.

The ceremony included groundbreaking for another business. Work on a building for IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union should start in a few weeks.

Said Prophetstown resident Suzy Knickel: “We’re strong! We come together!”

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