By Megan Dooley
The fire that destroyed much of an Oak Park home Wednesday evening was started by two second grade boys experimenting with a cigarette lighter under the front porch of the home, according to Oak Park Fire Chief Thomas Ebsen.
One of the children was a resident of the home where the fire began, and the other was a neighbor.
Firefighters were dispatched at just after 4:30 p.m., April 13, to a home on the 600 block of N. Taylor. By the time they arrived at 4:34, both the front porch and the first floor were engulfed in flames.
Ebsen said the house was an older home, and because of its construction, very susceptible to the spreading of fire. "Once the fire got into the exterior wall, it just very rapidly spread to all levels of the house," he said.
Fire companies from eight surrounding towns were dispatched to assist in fighting the powerful fire. The blaze was finally brought under control by 5:30 p.m.
"At the height of the fire," Ebsen said, "we had 18 of our companies here."
Ebsen said the assistance from outside departments was vital to successfully fighting the fire, because it allowed firefighters to combat the flames in shifts. "Everybody gets exhausted." he said. "That's why so many people coming out is great."
The fire chief said the houses to the north and south of the fire did get some minor fire damage, including melted siding on one house. But those residents were able to return to their homes Wednesday evening.
The house where the fire occurred, however, will not be livable for some time. "The house is severely damaged. All three floors, including the roof," said Ebsen. "The family will be displaced for probably quite a while, unfortunately, until repairs can be made."
Ebsen said the parents were not home when the fire began, and the two children who lived in the house were being cared for by a nanny. The nanny was in the backyard of the home with one of the children, while the other child and his neighbor friend played under the porch. Everyone escaped without injury, and no one was inside the home when the fire began.
The chief said it's difficult for children of that age to make the connection between the small flame produced by a lighter and a rapidly spreading house fire. The boys likely didn't understand what the consequences of their actions could be.
"The families are distraught over that," he said.
Police tape surrounds the fire ravaged house on the 600 block of N. Taylor and the windows have been boarded up.
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