It was go time for the Oak Park Fire Department on Saturday, April 13, when two major residential structure fires broke out in the village just a few hours and two blocks from one another.
The first fire was reported at just before 4 p.m. in a six-unit building at 530 S. Scoville Ave. While firefighters worked to extinguish the flame, a second fire erupted from the back porch of a single-family home at 710 S. Elmwood Ave.
No serious injuries were reported from either fire, but one pregnant woman in the Scoville fire was evaluated and treated for smoke inhalation.
Oak Park Deputy Fire Chief Peter Pilafas said in a telephone interview that the department is still investigating both blazes.
He said firefighters were working to extinguish the Scoville fire when the Elmwood call came in. Firefighters could already see the plumes of smoke billowing from the nearby Elmwood fire by the time the fire was reported.
Pilafas said that, as of 5:45 p.m., firefighters were still actively attempting to control the blaze on Scoville. At around 5:07 p.m., smoke and heavy flames could be seen billowing out of the building's roof.
Multiple residents of the Scoville building, however, suspect that the fire may be related to recent a 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 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 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."
Pilafas said the fire on Elmwood caused a "significant amount of damage" to the back porch, basement and top floor of the building. He added that radiant heat from the Elmwood fire caused heat damage to adjacent buildings to the north and south.
Pilafas said the Red Cross assisted with victims of both fires.
Fire departments from more than a dozen communities helped to put out the two fires, Pilafas said.
At the Scoville fire, Oak Park received assistance from fire departments in Forest Park, River Forest, Cicero, North Riverside, Hillside and Pleasant View. The Villa Park Fire Department also assisted with calls to Oak Park in cases unrelated to either of the two fires.
Oak Park also received assistance from the following department in the Elmwood fire: Riverside; Broadview; Bellwood; Oak Brook; Stickney; Westchester; Brookfield; Hinsdale and Berwyn.
Contributing: Tim Inklebarger
Answer Book 2018
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