Firefighters from Oak Park and surrounding suburbs, including Berwyn and Cicero, are trying to put out a major fire that broke out just before 4 p.m. on Saturday, inside of a 6-unit apartment complex on the 500 block of S. Scoville Ave. in Oak Park.
Peter J. Pilafas, deputy fire chief of the Oak Park Fire Department, said that, as of 5:45 p.m., firefighters were still actively attempting to control the blaze. At around 5:07 p.m., smoke and heavy flames could be seen billowing out of the building’s roof.
Pilafas said that no injuries were reported and that the department is still investigating the cause of the fire.
Multiple residents of the building, however, suspect that the fire may be related to a recent decision made by the building’s owner, Domain Realty, to distribute space heaters throughout the apartment complex days before the boiler was supposed to be replaced.
Marshall Hatch, Jr., 31, who lives on the building’s first floor, said that he was in Chicago when he got a call from his pregnant wife, who was inside of the apartment at the time the smoke appeared.
“I was coming from Hyde Park and she called frantic, crying and when I arrived she was coughing,” Hatch said. “It was clear she had inhaled some stuff. The ambulance checked her out. My mom is going to take her to the hospital now. She’s 33 weeks pregnant.”
Hatch shared an email tenants of the building received from Domain Realty on April 8 explaining that there had been a “major failure of the boiler in the building today” and that it would take a few days to replace.
“These boilers are not sitting on a shelf and must be built to order,” wrote Adam Wavrunek, the lead property manager. “We are contracting [to] have the new boiler installed as quickly as possible.”
The space heaters arrived two days later, on April 10, according to email records that residents shared. Wavrunek explained in an email sent to tenants that day that contractors were scheduled to begin replacing the “entire boiler” on April 15, and that he anticipated the project taking “at least a couple days.”
Wavrunek added that the new boiler system would be “a major upgrade from the last boiler and the contractor will also be making changes to the system to help moderate temperatures in the apartments.”
Attempts to contact Wavrunek for comment on Saturday evening were unsuccessful.
Hatch said that he “definitely” believes that the fire is electrical — the result of so many space heaters plugged in at once, adding that he thought it “a little insensitive” that the company gave him “pretty small heaters” to warm a three-bedroom apartment.
“I thought they were dragging their feet,” Hatch said, of Domain’s response to the broken boiler.
Latoya Lockett, who lives on the third floor with her 13-year-old son and her boyfriend, echoed Hatch’s sentiment.
Lockett said that Domain delivered two space heaters to her two-bedroom apartment. At the time, she said, she and her son accepted the heaters begrudgingly.
“I was afraid that something like this could happen,” Lockett said. “So was my son. He didn’t even want the space heater in his room.”
Lockett, who has lived in the building for roughly a year, said that her family had been without heat since “at least the middle of February.” The building owners, she said, “would say they were going to fix the problem, but the problem was never solved.”
Lockett said that before Saturday’s fire, she had been experiencing electrical problems with her kitchen outlets.
“If you plugged something in, it would go out,” she said. “You’d have to go downstairs and reset the fuse. That problems started happening last year. They fixed one outlet but weren’t able to fix the other. Depending on what you plugged up and how much you plugged up, it would go out. I think the fire is electrical. With all of those people on that line, of course something is bound to happen.”
Lockett, who was away when the fire started, said that she was glad to be alive.
“If this had happened at night,” she said, “we would’ve been gone.”