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Leaf River firefighter perishes in house fire

At least 300 people turned out Sunday evening for to honor a young Leaf River firefighter who died when his family’s home was destroyed in a fire early Friday morning.

Greg Wood, 19, was remembered at a candlelight vigil by the firefighters from departments across northern Illinois, as well as family, friends, and local residents, who filled the front driveway at the Leaf River Fire Station. 

Wood was pronounced dead at the scene of the 12:40 a.m. fire at 209 W. Second St., Leaf River, just a block from the fire station.

Two members of his family remain hospitalized for treatment of serious injuries suffered in the fire.

His father, Marcus Wood, 43, who is the deputy chief of the Leaf River Fire Department, was listed in fair condition Tuesday in the burn unit at OSF St. Anthony Medical Center, Rockford, and his younger brother Travis, 16, a cadet firefighter, is in good condition at Mercyhealth Hospital, Rockford.

His mother Nicole, an EMT on the department, was transported by ambulance to Mercyhealth, where she was treated and released.

The family’s dog also perished in the blaze.

Fire Chief Steve Shelton said Monday morning that the cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

Illinois State Police Crime Scene Investigation, the Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office, and the Ogle County Sheriff’s Department are conducting the investigation.

Investigators said the fire is not considered suspicious.

Shelton, who lives across the street from the Wood home, said he was awakened at about 12:40 a.m. on Friday when members of the Wood family pounded on his door for help.

At that point, he said, the entire front of the two-story frame house was in flames.

He said he and his son Aaron, also a firefighter, immediately went to the fire station.

When they arrived back on the scene with a firetruck, the house was totally engulfed.

“Basically there were flames coming from every window of the house,” he said.

Fifteen area fire departments responded with mutual aid. 

This is the first time the Leaf River Fire Department has suffered the loss of a firefighter in a fire, Shelton said, and the entire department is devastated.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Shelton said. “He was a fine young man. He cared about the community and was there when we needed him.”

“I just want to ask everyone to keep this family and the fire department in their prayers,” he said.

Neighboring fire departments have been covering Leaf River’s fire calls since Friday and will continue to do so for the next few days.

“The overwhelming support has just been phenomenal,” Shelton said on Monday.

Both Marcus and Greg also volunteered for the German Valley Fire Department.

Shelton said Greg, a 2017 graduate of Forreston High School, had just successfully completed EMT classes.

“All he needed to do was take the state test to be certified,” he said.

Greg was employed at Jo-Eng Dairy Farm, German Valley.

After two to three hours, the firefighting efforts depleted the village’s water supply, and they switched to pumping water from tankers.

“We went to a fifth alarm for tankers,” Shelton said. “By the time we switched the fire was under control and we were just hitting hot spots.”

Village Water & Sewer Supervisor Cam McGill said the pumps for the village’s two wells couldn’t produce water fast enough to keep pace with the demand.

Assisting at the fire scene were firefighters from the Mt. Morris, Oregon, Polo, German Valley, Forreston, Byron, Stillman Valley, Monroe Center, New Milford, Blackhawk, Shannon, Pecatonica, Win-Bur-Sew, Freeport Rural, and Dixon Rural Fire Departments, along with numerous ambulances, and the Mercyhealth Rockford MD-1 unit.

Shelton said a procession of vehicles from area departments escorted the Ogle County Coroner’s vehicle as it transported Wood’s body to the morgue.

A moment of silence was observed in Wood’s memory at the Forreston High School football game on Saturday afternoon.

The Leaf River Fire Department has set up a fund at German American State Bank, German Valley, to assist the Wood family.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been completed.