Chicago high rise fire: Investigators to begin searching for cause of deadly blaze at 4800 Lake Park in Kenwood

CHICAGO (WLS) — Chicago firefighters were back at the scene of a deadly skyscraper fire early Thursday morning, and investigators are expected to begin trying to determine the cause of the blaze.

A woman died and nine others were injured in the incident, including a firefighter, at an apartment building on South Lake Park Avenue on Wednesday morning.

The fire started on the 15th floor of the 25-story Harper Square Co-Op building in the 4800 block of South Lake Park Avenue just after 10 a.m.

The wind caused the fire to spread very quickly, going vertically from floor to floor up to the 24th floor.

It took hundreds of firefighters to put out the flames, and the elevators were out, so all equipment had to be lifted manually.

A woman was killed, found on the 15th floor. Eight other residents were injured.

Many of those living in the skyscraper are devastated by the loss.

WATCH: CFD officials provide update on deadly skyscraper fires

“She said, ‘you gotta get out, you gotta get out!’ I said, ‘what? where?’ She said, ‘there’s a fire, you have to go!’ said Leanne Faine.

The Salvation Army stepped in to provide support by delivering meals to residents.

Three hundred firefighters responded to the scene.

The identity of the slain woman has yet to be revealed, but those who knew her said she was a retired teacher in the 1980s.

A close friend heard the devastating news as she watched praying for the best.

“I grew up here in the building and always thought of her as an aunt,” said the victim’s friend, Jauntanne Mayes. “I came back to see how she was, if she was okay, because I had tried calling and calling and no one had been able to reach her.”

Some residents who were able to exit safely evacuated the building themselves. Many more have been asked to shelter in place.

Residents said their fight-or-flight reactions began when the fire broke out.

“I looked out the window and saw the flames. They were right under me,” Margo King said.

King said she smelled smoke, went to her window, and saw flames erupt from a floor below her. She ran.

“I opened it and stuck my head out. The flame was coming out so badly. It scared me so much,” King said. “My eyes started burning, my throat hurt. That’s why I put my mask on in the house. Crazy.”

A few hours later, she returned to see the extent of the damage and found her unit destroyed.

Bankole Oluyinka was at home with her daughter when the fire broke out. She said building officials told her to stay inside her unit.

“I don’t know why they asked us to stay inside. My daughter kept calling them, what do we do?” Oluyinka said.

“My mum, she can’t climb stairs, but she was told the same thing,” said fellow resident David Walker.

Fearing for their lives, they decided to descend 23 floors.

“Smoke was everywhere, I was shaken, not before I saw the fire which I had to put out,” Oluyinka said.

Leanne Faine said a neighbor knocked on her door to tell her and her husband about the fire.

“We ran down the stairs – we’re on the eighth floor – they told us it was 15+ so we didn’t know what to do. We ran to the garage and got our car” , said Faine. “He just had a pacemaker put in. We were scared because he can’t come down the stairs like we can. He has to come down the stairs. I was so frayed, I said, ‘Come on baby, Come on, we can’t be burned here, let’s go, come on!’”

Phyllis Powell was working nearby when her husband’s carer alerted her. They managed to get out of their unit but got stuck on the seventh floor.

“We tried to leave and the fireman said we had to stay put because we were three floors from home. We just had to stay. Couldn’t go down or up,” Powell said.

Another resident said a building worker told him about the fire.

“I asked, ‘Are we evacuating? And he said no and he stayed calm, so I stayed calm. I didn’t realize the seriousness of the situation until I saw it on the news,” said resident Astrid Exorthe.

She and others evacuated on their own, mostly due to smoke and water damage. However, firefighters said self-evacuation can put people at risk.

“The protocol that we use with the Chicago Fire Department when dealing with a high-rise building, some units would be best to shelter in place and others to evacuate,” Langford said. “What we typically do is evacuate the ground above and below the fire, depending on the size of the building and the footprint of the building. A building like this, if you’re at a certain distance and the floors are below and above, the fire is not spreading laterally, it is spreading vertically, so you are safe in certain units.”

“The high-rise building is a fire-resistant construction – is built with built-in fire partitions. The doors are apartment fire doors. The stairs are closed, the hallways – it is configured so that you can stay in your unit and always safe,” Furman explained.

Regardless, many people with loved ones in the building went into panic mode as the flames grew.

“I cried because I knew it was his building,” said Latina Brown, whose mother lives in the building.

Brown said at first she couldn’t reach her mother, who lives on the 15th floor. However, she later learned that her mother was at work.

“I was just a worried girl. I just wanted to make sure my mom was safe and okay,” Brown said.

“I decided to go downstairs to check everything,” said a resident of the building. “I noticed people looking at the building, then I just came downstairs and saw that the fire was blazing at that moment. I called my mother because my aunt is still in the building. In this moment she is safe in someone else’s unit.

“A lot of people live here. A lot of people have lived here for 30 or 40 years, so it’s definitely devastating for me, for them, and for their families,” State Rep. Lamont Robinson said. “We would like to thank the first responders for bringing the fire under control.”

Looking at the damage done to their unit, Oluyinka said she was grateful that she and her daughter were able to get out of it safely.

“I’m alive. My daughter is alive. That’s enough for me. Even though I lost everything, I’m alive. That’s the most important thing,” she said.

Building inspection violations

The I-Team reports that the building has failed its last seven inspections by the Department of Buildings (DOB), including one on December 1, 2022, for failing to test the fire alarm and evacuation system.

“The Department of Buildings (DOB) takes matters of public safety and quality of life very seriously. Our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of the deceased resident, the injured residents and firefighter and all those affected by the today’s tragic fire,” DOB said in part in a statement.

DOB also said during an inspection on Nov. 7, 2022, violations for interior door tags, exterior masonry, and for not filing the required report on exterior high-rise walls were noted. The DOB also referred the violations to the Justice Department, which filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court, officials said. The trial is due to be heard on February 2.

“DOB inspectors were at the scene of today’s tragic fire and will be working closely with the Chicago Fire Department in their investigation and damage assessment,” the DOB added.

The building, which was built in 1970, has 298 apartments, with about 267 units occupied, officials said.

Sources also tell ABC7 Chicago that individual units in this building do not have sprinklers.

The head of the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Council points out that after the deadly 2003 fire at the Cook County Administration Building, the city passed an ordinance requiring all residential buildings to pass what is called a “life safety assessment”.

RELATED: Advisory Board Urges Chicago to Reevaluate Fire Safety Ordinance, Require Fire Sprinklers

The ordinance does not require sprinklers as long as buildings implement passive measures, such as self-closing doors to contain a fire.

“In this fire, the fire was given the opportunity to escape, so it affected other units, so we can see that a building that passed the life safety assessment is still not doing the job. said Erik Hoffer, the director of the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Council.

Hoffer urges the city of Chicago to reevaluate its fire safety ordinance.

It is not known how many residents were displaced by the fire.

“While the situation is still evolving, many residents are telling us at this time that they have a place to stay. Our volunteers will help affected residents with social work, health services and mental health support in the event of a disaster. , and shelter if residents indicate there is a need,” the Red Cross said.

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