Photo by Larry Smith

April has been a busy month for the Oak Park Fire Department, extinguishing fires in three multi-unit buildings over the last three weeks – one of which resulted in a death.

The first fire took place on Easter Sunday morning, April 1, at a 10-unit condo building at 327 Wisconsin Ave. The call came in at 9 a.m. after residents smelled smoke and heard a loud bang from a second-floor unit.

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office identified the victim of the fire as resident Craig B. Wilson, 48, but the cause and manner of his death are still pending. The cause of the fire also is still under investigation, according to Oak Park Deputy Fire Chief Peter Pilafas.

One week later, on April 8, a fire broke out in a 27-unit apartment building in the 900 block of North Austin at 9:11 p.m. The Chicago, Oak Park and River Forest fire departments had that blaze under control in about 25 minutes, and no one was injured, according to Pilafas.

That fire started in the kitchen of the unit as a result of “unattended cooking materials,” Pilafas said. Smoke detectors were working in that building, which helped speed the evacuation, he noted.

The resident of that building was rescued via fire ladder from their third floor window and taken to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries, Pilafas said.

Most recently, a fire broke out Tuesday morning, April 17, at about 7:30 a.m., in a third-floor unit of a 21-unit condo building at 423 N. Lombard Ave.

Pilafas said the fire at that building is still under investigation, but fire investigators have determined that it originated between the ceiling and floor between the units.

The origin of that fire was “possibly electrical,” according to Pilafas.

Mark Scott, president of the condo association for the North Lombard building, said in a telephone interview that most residents are back in their units, but a few families whose condos were damaged by what and smoke are still displaced.

Several of the units in that building are occupied by seniors who have elected to not yet return because of the smoke smell, Scott said.

He said the damage was confined to three units on the south side of the building, and ceilings and carpeting on the second-floor hallway have also been removed because of water damage, Scott said.

Scott said the owners have not yet been given an official explanation for the cause of the fire.

“It looks like it was in the wall of a unit,” he said.

He noted that: “Everyone made it out of the building fine; nobody was hurt and that’s the main thing, of course.”

Pilafas did not immediately have data available on the frequency of multi-unit building fires in Oak Park, but he added that it might seem like there are more just because of the number that have occurred over the last few weeks.

“I think in February there were no fires,” he said.

Pilafas said the fire department has implemented a new program called “Close to Home” where firefighters canvass the homes and multi-unit buildings in the area where a fire has occurred within 48 hours of the incident to distribute safety information on fire detectors and other fire prevention information.

“It brings awareness of situations that have happened on that block,” he said.


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