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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

News Release

For Immediate Release

Tuesday, July 11, 2023
Contact: Public Affairs Specialist Kimberly Nerheim

ATF National Response Team Joins Local, State Fire Investigation in Sterling, Illinois

WASHINGTON – The Chicago Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives requested ATF’s National Response Team join the investigation into a fire that occurred the morning of Friday, July 7, 2023, that claimed the life of one resident. Two others sustained non-life threating injuries in the three-story mixed-use building on the 400 block of 3rd Street in Sterling, Illinois.

NRT members arrived in Sterling Monday, July 10, 2023, afternoon to assist the Sterling Fire Department, Sterling Police Department and the Illinois State Fire Marshal in the investigation to determine the cause and origin of the blaze. The NRT consists of a team of Special Agents, Certified Fire Investigators, Fire Protection Engineers, Electrical Engineers, Forensic Chemists, Certified Explosives Specialists, an Intelligence Research Specialist, a Medic and an Accelerant Detection Canine with handler.

"The NRT is here to provide specialized resources to help determine the origin and cause of this fire,” said Christopher Forkner, ATF NRT Supervisor. “ATF is a force multiplier for our state and local law enforcement partners to assist them in their fire investigative duties working alongside our field division experts and employing state of the art technology.”

“Our sincere condolences go out to the community of Sterling,” said Chicago Field Division Special Agent in Charge Christopher Amon. “ATF’s Chicago Field Division is committed to assisting our partners in determining the cause and origin of this tragedy.”

Scott Shumard, Sterling City Manager said, “When the ATF offered their specialized fire investigative services to the city to assist in the investigation, we immediately extended an invite to them in order to provide the best possible investigation into the cause of this tragic fire.”

This is the 20th NRT activation this fiscal year and the 909th since the program began in 1978.

The NRT provides an immediate and sustained nationwide response capability, typically deploying within 24 hours of notification, with state-of-the-art equipment and highly qualified ATF personnel specializing in fire origin and cause determination.

The NRT is comprised of three regional components organized geographically to cover the United States. The team can rapidly respond to assist local and state law enforcement or fire service personnel in onsite investigations.

Past NRT activations include such incidents as: the Nashville “Christmas Day” bombing; more than 200 fire scenes resulting from civil unrest throughout the Midwest in 2020; a series of bombings in Austin, Texas, in 2018; and national-level tragedies such as the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon; the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta; the Oklahoma City bombing and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

ATF is the federal agency with jurisdiction for investigating fires and crimes of arson. More information on ATF can be found at