Alorton Mayor JoAnn Reed was awakened by a loud noise and a call from her alarm company early Monday and escaped barefoot from her burning house — her third house fire in the last dozen years.
The fire destroyed the home, which had been in her family more than 50 years. She blames enemies trying to run her out of town, and authorities say they are investigating the latest blaze early Monday as a possible arson. They said nothing about possible suspects if the fire was intentionally set.
“I’ve been a target of a lot of stuff,” including criminal charges, the mayor said, but her strength and resilience have seen her through, she added. “They haven’t been able to run me out of this town.”
Reed, 60, was awakened by noise about 1 a.m. The phone rang about the same time, with her alarm company telling her there was a fire in her home, in the 100 block of North 42nd Street.
As Reed ran through the house and escaped through the side porch door, the fire spread quickly.
“As I came through I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “Every breath hurt until I got outside.
“As I looked back at the house, fire was billowing out the windows and the front door,” she said later Monday as she looked at the devastation. Family mementos and pictures from when her father and his siblings were kids were destroyed. He died of cancer in March at age 88, and she moved into the family home after his death.
Also destroyed were belongings bought after the two previous fires, in 2007 and 2017 at a different home a few blocks away in the 4200 block of Walnut Avenue.
“This has happened so many times that experience tells you that this was intentional,” she said.
Alorton Police Chief Dave Clark said he called in the Illinois State Police to handle the investigation, along with the state fire marshal’s office.
“We are trying to acquire surveillance video that may help in the investigation,” Clark said. A mini-mart across the street has video cameras that may have captured the start of the fire.
Alorton Fire Chief Mario Douglas said the fire started about 1 a.m., in the front living room area and spread to the roof area. The fire took several hours to extinguish.
Douglas said he believes an accelerant was used. The state fire marshal brought in a dog, which detected possible accelerants in several areas, Douglas said.
Reed said she thinks some people in the small town want her out and are behind the fires and court battles she’s faced.
Reed was charged with official misconduct in September for allegedly operating a police vehicle with its lights flashing.
In 2014 she pleaded guilty to a felony charge that accused her of smuggling a cellphone into the Alorton jail for an incarcerated relative. Her conviction was removed from her record after she attended a drug treatment program, the Belleville News-Democrat reported. She ran again for mayor and won.
Reed said she might seem defeated but she is not.
“These cowards have not been able to rob me of my joy and they never will,” Reed said. “I may be broken for now, but I’ll be OK. God is going to see me through this.”