A devastating early morning house fire in the 100 block of South Harvey Ave. claimed the life of an elderly Oak Park woman Saturday. Virginia Cameron, 76, reportedly lived on the second floor of the large 2-story home at 121 S. Harvey Ave., and shared the home with her daughter, who occupied the first floor.
The fire had been reported by the daughter, whom fire officials did not identify, via cell phone at 2:07 a.m. The first Oak Park units arrived three minutes later at 2:10, and a box alarm was immediately issued, summoning equipment from Berwyn, Cicero, River Forest and North Riverside.
Firefighters first on the scene found "heavy fire coming from the rear of the house," according to Oak Park Battalion Chief Kevin Wiley. They immediately attacked the blaze from both inside and outside the house, with ground and aerial hoses. However, Wiley said firefighters had to contend with "very heavy fire conditions that involved a large section of the structure," and the blaze soon grew in intensity.
At that point the numerous fire fighters inside were ordered out of the building. Within 10 minutes the building's large pitched roof collapsed.
"The incident commander was observing the scene and reading the building," said Oak Park Lt. Donald Bush on Monday. "He noticed the conditions changing, and decided to err on the side of safety.
Cameron's daughter, whom Bush said had "self-evacuated," informed rescuers that her mother lived on the second floor of the building.
When firefighters eventually succeeded in "darkening down" the fire sometime around 4 a.m., they were able to locate Cameron's body on the second floor.
She was taken to the Cook County Medical Examiners office and was pronounced dead at 7:55 a.m. She was later determined to have died from carbon monoxide intoxication due to smoke inhalation, according to the Medical Examiner's Office.
The fire was brought under control by 4:30 a.m., and the last firefighters left the scene around 9 a.m.
Fire investigators were at the home on Monday searching for clues as to the fire's origin. But that may take some time.
"It is undetermined and still being investigated at this time," said Bush of the investigative process late Monday afternoon.
The building appeared to be heavily damaged, particularly in the rear, where fire appeared to have burned up a stairwell from the first floor. The roof is almost completely destroyed.
"Sal" from Urban Restorations, which has been hired to stabilize the ravaged structure prior to inspection, was on site Monday morning. The building, he said flatly, was "99 percent destroyed."
A relative who accompanied Cameron's daughter to the fire scene late Sunday morning, Ken Schriner, politely declined a media request for comment on the tragedy, saying that the woman was still far too upset to discuss anything.
Schriner did, however, offer the family's thanks to all the fire and police personnel involved in Saturday's events.
"I can't say enough about their professionalism and their kindness," said Schriner. "I'm deeply grateful for all their help."