An electrical malfunction caused the six-alarm fire in West Chicago that displaced more than 100 residents early Monday morning, fire officials said Tuesday.
The fire started in the walls of a first-floor bathroom, behind either an outlet or the bathroom fan, said West Chicago Deputy Fire Chief Bob Hodge. Officials with the DuPage County's fire investigations team said they saw charring in both areas, he added.
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Once the fire was sparked, Hodge said, it spread quickly.
"Everything occurred behind the walls," he said. "It then went the way fires go, up and out."
Hodge said the building, on the 500 block of Carriage Drive, is not equipped with sprinklers, but that each unit had a fire alarm installed. He and members of the task force were at the scene Tuesday, getting a close-up look at the site. Insurance inspectors were also on hand and Hodge said it would be up to them to determine the exact origin of the blaze.
Pictures taken by one inspector showed burned debris in some of the most damaged units, as well as burned garments and insulation.
Several holes were poked in walls of the 11-unit building, evidence of firefighters seeking the fire at the chaotic scene. Several ceilings had extensive water damage as well.
As inspectors wrapped up the investigation, some of the displaced residents of the main building and an adjacent building remained about two miles away at West Chicago's Community High School.
The American Red Cross assisted the residents, as did the West Chicago Police Department and school officials.
"Your heart goes out to them because they tell you they've lost everything," said West Chicago District 94 Superintendent Lalo Ponce. "You see it in their demeanor when they tell you the stories of how they lost 10 years of everything they had."
Red Cross officials called the school district Monday morning asking to set up a shelter at the high school. Twelve people stayed overnight and even more were staying there to beat the heat on Tuesday.
"It really affects you to see the kids," said Ponce, who delivered sandwiches to the families Tuesday afternoon.
One of those families was the family of Gloria Ramirez.
Ramirez said she was sleeping in the basement apartment of an adjoining building when she heard a loud knocking on her windows Monday morning, with police officers yelling "Fire" down to her family.
She and her husband rushed out of the door barefoot and met up with her three daughters, whom she said were frantic as they waited for their parents.
Ramirez said she has been told that her apartment would be off limits until at least next week. However, she said it could have been a lot worse.
"We thought everything was going to burn and we were going to be left with nothing," she said.