CALUMET CITY, Illinois (CBS) An 85-year-old woman has died and several other people were rescued after a fire broke out in an apartment building in Calumet City on Monday night.
The fire left 150 families homeless, according to Jaclyn Saucier, president of the Park of River Oaks Condo Association.
The fire broke out around noon. 7pm Monday on the second floor of the 312-unit apartment complex at 200 Park Ave. in Calumet City. The wind drove the flames all the way to the seventh floor, firefighters confirmed.
There was a massive effort at the building, with several dozen fire trucks on site and firefighters supplying water to a smoldering unit in the seven-story building. Several people had to be rescued using ladder carts.
Not only did the firefighters struggle with intense winds, but the building has limited sprinklers since it was built before they were required.
Calumet City Fire Department confirmed Monday that a female resident died after suffering injuries on the seventh floor. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office has identified the victim as 85-year-old Wilhelmina Williamson.
During the effort, the fire was quickly upgraded to a three-alarm effort for extra equipment and manpower – partly because of the intensity of the flames, and also because the building is part of a massive condominium association with a large group of seven-story buildings.
Officials said a total of 80 people had been displaced. At least six people were taken to hospitals with minor injuries, including three residents and three firefighters.
“I was out last night and I watched as the firefighters broke through windows; the families affected by how they cried and how it affected them because they just lost everything in this fire,” Calumet’s mayor said . Thaddeus Jones, who also represents the state of Illinois.
CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov spoke to a resident who came out very safely very early when the smoke alarms started going off. She said she understands the fire may have started with someone grilling at the back of 200 Park Ave.
The resident said there could have been some sort of propane flare or explosion and the back of the building has just ignited. Officials said it was a wind-driven fire.
“We took the stairs down and we went to the back and we saw one floor that was just burning – just in flames,” Shaunessye Curry said. “My heart started running because the embers from the flames were blowing. The wind was much higher than it is now. The embers were blowing and they were actually starting to catch other devices that were next to it.”
The cause of the fire is currently under investigation, but officials believe it was an accident.
“They said someone was grilling on the second floor and the propane tank jumped and went up,” Curry said.
“We were told by residents and we are looking at all avenues for fire investigation. Again, it is still under investigation,” said Calumet City Fire Chief Glenn Bachert.
Officials said most of the units on the 7th floor are completely uninhabitable after the fire.
The American Red Cross said they provide food, shelter and clothing to everyone in the building who needs them. They also help people fill out prescriptions if necessary. The Red Cross said they provided assistance to about 50-75 people on Tuesday morning.
Anyone who lived in the building and who needs assistance from the Red Cross can call 877-597-0747.