3 Oak Park houses damaged in early a.m. blaze

75 firefighters respond to 3-alarm fire


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By Jean Lotus

Forest Park Review Editor

An early morning blaze totally destroyed one house and spread to two others in the 800 block of Clinton Avenue early Sunday morning. Seventy-five fire fighters from 11 neighboring municipalities fought the fire, which was first reported at 4:17 a.m. said Oak Park Fire Chief Tom Ebsen.

"When we got there the house [at 814 Clinton Ave.] was fully involved with flames on all three floors, so our strategy was to try to protect the homes on either side," Ebsen said.

But a north wind blew flames onto the roof of neighboring 818, to the south, which sustained significant fire and water damage, Ebsen said. No one was injured and firefighters returned into one house and rescued a cat, Ebsen said. The house at 810 Clinton sustained minor damage.

"Three families are displaced, but everyone got out, so it could have been much worse," Ebsen said.

The owner of 814, Mora McDonald lives in Takoma Park, Maryland.  She said by phone she inherited her girlhood home from her mother and had remodeled and rented to tenants since 2012.

"I can't believe it. I grew up in that house," she said. "It's devastating."

Three inhabitants of the house at 814 were home when the blaze started in the front of the house, possibly on the front porch.

The Red Cross crisis response team arrived and was working with family members in the destroyed home to give them short-term housing and clothing, Ebsen said.

Neighbor Brad Giemza, of 818 Clinton, said his nine-year-old daughter awakened the family and they rushed outside to safety.

"You could feel the heat from next door on the inside walls of our house," he said.

Ebsen said the fire's cause had not been determined and that five regional investigators would be on the scene later Sunday to try to determine the starting point.

** If you have photos of the fire you'd like to share, send them to jlotus@wjinc.com

This article has been updated to correctly spell Brad Giemza's name.

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Concerned for their Kitties  

Posted: May 6th, 2014 8:31 PM

The owners' 2 cats ran away during the fire. One is a chubby Siamese named Bubba and a smallish fluffy gray tabby named Fatty. Please be on the lookout. Thank you.

A Neighbor  

Posted: May 6th, 2014 10:24 AM

The video attached to this article was not shot by a neighbor. You can easily Google the name of the person who shot the video, and look at the website where it was originally posted - a website that tracks Chicago area fires.

The Expert from Oak Park  

Posted: May 6th, 2014 10:22 AM

The home owner or occupant having working smoke detectors is crucial in being notified of a fire in your residence. I can't imagine that happened in this case with the amount of fire the firemen had when they pulled up. Smoke Detectors save lives. Make sure you have them and they work.

Cindy from Oak Park  

Posted: May 6th, 2014 8:10 AM

so comforting to know that a neighbor took film of their house burning to the ground......what's wrong with people????

make em stop  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 11:26 PM

Fair to question water pressure/supply, but to criticize the OPFD is crazy. They do a great job. Someone please write an article explaining mutual aid and why departments don't have 75 of their own people on staff at all times.....Of course exaggerating, but please explain to the wannabe experts in article format, which takes longer than comment section how mutual aid works, I can't take the "experts" from Oak Park anymore. Great job OPFD and supporting departments. Here's to no injuries!

Anonymous from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 6:21 PM

And PS, A. Moss, by "constructive" do mean gratuitous and sophomoric name calling or did you have something else in mind?

Anonymous from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 6:19 PM

It's not crazy to ask questions when things don't add up. I would be hugely relieved to know that everything is fine - that the water pressure is as good as it can be and that the firefighters did exactly what they could and were supposed to do. If not, there are problems that are fixable that we ought to fix. That's all anyone is saying.

A. Moss of Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 5:07 PM

Appears we have some 800 South Clinton Fire Truthers. The important thing is that no one was killed or injured. The fire department cannot magically appear at the first whisp of smoke. Property losses, while horrible for the property owner, should be insured. The OPFD's job is concentrate on (1) saving the living and (2) saving structures that were saveable. The Monday Morning Quarterbacking in these comments is pathetic and disgusting. Find something constructive to do people.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 4:49 PM

I read two other news sources, and watch video from a third news source. The house was completely engulfed when the firefighters got there. The call to the fire department seemed to happen too late to save that house. According to Chief Ebsen, on video, he said that a neighbor called the folks at 814, letting them know that their house was on fire. Big picture: I am grateful everyone is alive.

Chief Ebson said........  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 4:37 PM

Ebsen said water pressure was not a problem with the hydrants, and videos of the fire showing a water stream decreasing were not depicting water pressure problems.


Posted: May 5th, 2014 4:10 PM

Clearly the second video shows the entire structure engulfed. Not sure any amount of water was going to PREVENT a structure less than 20feet away from catching on fire!!! DUH

Under Pressure from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 4:06 PM

I remember seeing the fire department laying off personnel a few years ago, I can't help but think this is a good example of "getting what you ask for." No one will ever know, but it sure seems like if more firefighters were there immediately that night, more could have been done to help those poor families sooner. I wonder if they have made cuts like that before and just gotten lucky without a big fire like this. All of the water pressure in the world won't help that problem.

Under Pressure from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 4:03 PM

I can see the point the chief makes about not having enough water pressure. It seems like it took too long for all of the firefighters to arrive. The article says 75 firefighters arrived from other communities, why don't we have more firefighters on duty in our own community to take care of our own problems? Why do we have to depend so heavily on other communities? I was there that night and saw fire trucks from Maywood, Cicero and Elmwood Park. What if they couldn't come that night?


Posted: May 5th, 2014 3:43 PM

@Concerned: that is what remember seeing...

Concerned Citizen  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 3:20 PM

Another video with time date stamps is available here. Draw your own conclusions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2xmQmtC6Ck&feature=youtu.be


Posted: May 5th, 2014 3:04 PM

Anan was there at 4:30 in the morning and well aware of what happened. How do I know? I was there at 4:30 as well, saw him, and have seen email correspondence between him and neighbors about the situation.

MichaelO from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 3:03 PM

It's Oak Park's own !!!BENGHAZI!!!


Posted: May 5th, 2014 1:57 PM

Nope, not an expert and know nothing about fire response. All I know is that what I saw doesn't add up to what the fire department claims happened. I saw firemen working with the equivalent of a garden hose for quite a while; I saw it took close to an hour for the second house to catch fire; and I didn't see see the fire department focus on surrounding houses first, as they claimed they did. What caught my attention was that the city felt the need to rewrite history and I don't understand why


Posted: May 5th, 2014 1:49 PM

This is what is so annoying about Oak Park. Everyone thinks they're an expert on every profession. Looking at people here debate water pressure and fire fighting techniques is laughable. It would be so funny if we were able to go into your work daily lives and comment anonymously throughout the day about what you're doing wrong. Get over yourselves.

Anonymous from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 1:06 PM

Let's take a vote: does H2O work for Anan, the Fire Department or the Water Department? My money is on Anan, though your comment name makes me wonder about water. I can't tell! But I'd bet your job is requiring you to keep this story from having any legs. A bit of advice: the cover-up is always worse than the crime. Let residents know you're examining the evidence and you will do everything in your power to fix any mistakes that arose. We all understand mistakes; we just hate lies.

Purple Aura  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 1:02 PM

When will this newspaper tell us the color of the flames and smoke? So typical of this editor, etc.

Concerned Resident (continued)  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 12:44 PM

As the firefighters struggled to contain the fire with the little water available to them, they were unable to take any preventative measures to save the adjacent houses. The firefighters seemed to be aware of the limited water available to them such that the only action they could take was on the initial burning home, and could do nothing to save the adjacent homes. Maybe the problem is just limited to the hydrants on 800 S. Clinton. But I hope the City is investigating.


Posted: May 5th, 2014 12:44 PM

Why is it that Fire trucks,once established on the scene with no vehicle traffic keep every light possible on and working? The block is normally blocked off with PD squads and it seems like at that moment its just unnecessary.


Posted: May 5th, 2014 12:37 PM

HA HA. There is absolutely no problem with the water pressure in that video clip. The reference to the pressure in the first hour is not on this video. Nothing here people.

Concerned Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 12:36 PM

The concern is a potential future resource problem. I don't think anyone is being critical of the fire personnel on the scene except for hearing some of the firefighters grumbling about who had to carry the hoses. The issue is whether there was (and will be in the future) a water pressure problem. Is the city looking into this and trying to determine why the water pressure was weak at best. It appeared to take way too long for the fire to be put out.

Under Pressure from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 11:31 AM

Is it possible the firefighters were just turning the "deck gun" on? I see what you mean at the :50 second mark, but if you look a few more seconds into the clip it looks like everything is working fine. I think that if there was a water pressure problem there is no way to have all of those fire trucks spraying all of that water at once. Either way, good job and kudos to the brave firefighters that responded. We are lucky to have such dedicated and skilled staff responding to our needs!


Posted: May 5th, 2014 9:59 AM

watch at the 50 second mark, pretty low pressure for the deck gun, maybe this is what they are referring to. Also, people on scene reported very low pressure numerous times. Not just neighborhood people, but people who know a thing or two about this: http://chicagoareafire.com/blog/2014/05/oak-park-3-alarm-fire-5-4-14/


Posted: May 5th, 2014 9:49 AM

Wrong, It is just a simple question as to what video you are referring to in your comment? I would like to see for myself. If any structure, let alone 3 was to burn more so than should have due to lack of water pressure, then we have a problem here. Ive seen the FD checking hydrants every summer.

Anonymous from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2014 9:44 AM

H2O - your comment sounds awfully defensive. No one would be happier than I to be wrong about this. My concern is that the city is more worried about covering up the errors than they are about fixing the problems that led to the less than perfect response. I suspect you are a representative of the city who doesn't want too much sunshine on this issue. I hope the press FOIA's the investigation and asks its own questions. The city's posturing doesn't meet the smell test.


Posted: May 5th, 2014 8:52 AM

Where is this video showing the lack of water pressure?


Posted: May 5th, 2014 12:06 AM

"anonymous" there are no comments from the Police Chief, but you probably meant Fire Chief. However, you are right, if you see the video that is out there, what is up with the water pressure? If I lived in that part of town I would be concerned if there is any more fires, your house is toast! Sorry, but I have seen garden hoses with more pressure than what they had to deal with at first. Yikes! No criticism of the FD, just what they had to work with. What gives Oak Park?!?!!

Anonymous from Oak Park  

Posted: May 4th, 2014 8:48 PM

I find the comment from the police chief concerning. Perhaps there strategy should have been to protect the other homes first, but that's not what I saw. It must have taken close to an hour to get real water pressure on the first house because of issues with equipment and water supply. I wondered why at that point they wouldn't save the other houses instead of saving the first house, which was clearly gone. But that didn't happen.

kristi braun  

Posted: May 4th, 2014 7:52 PM

Please SHARE with Oak Park families who want to help the families on 800 South Clinton! A fire burned three homes. We are requesting gift cards from Target, Am Ex, Visa and MasterCard. Please deliver to 808 Clinton or send to: Angie Maguire Thank you!

EKlein from Oak Park  

Posted: May 4th, 2014 6:24 PM

I hope to hear soon how we can help the people who need it. This is one of the worst fires I've ever seen in Oak Park.

Cynthia Goodhouse from Oak Park  

Posted: May 4th, 2014 2:28 PM

Glad everyone is safe. How devastating for these families. How can I help?

Deb Quantock McCarey from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 4th, 2014 12:16 PM

What a tragedy. Thank goodness people are safe. Will keep looking in to see how we can help.

B. purington  

Posted: May 4th, 2014 11:22 AM

What can the neighbors do to help? How about a centralized relief effort? Let us know. We are thankful everyone got out in time.

Donna peel from Oak park  

Posted: May 4th, 2014 10:21 AM

What do they need?

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