An Arlington Heights man was burned and a firefighter was injured in a Wednesday night house fire that exploded in the man's basement, but officials said their injuries could have been much worse.
The man was able to escape the smoky basement after chemical fumes exploded in his face, and firefighters pulled out of the building just before the first floor collapsed.
"We got out just in time," said Arlington Heights fire Lt. Ray Loch.
Firefighters evacuated the house after a firefighter in a stairwell was thrown back during a flashover, injuring him.
The first floor collapsed shortly after firefighters went into a defensive position, Loch said.
The homeowner was working to plug a hole with a flammable material when, fire officials believe, the water heater kicked on and ignited fumes from the patching material about 5 p.m.
The man suffered first- and second-degree burns to his face but was able to escape along with his wife before firefighters showed up to the home on the 1100 block of South Fernandez Avenue, officials said.
"His wife heard a big explosion," said Arlington Heights Fire Lt. Ray Loch. "She thought that something had fallen on him."
The firefighter who was injured during the flashover was taken to Northwest Community Hospital for a minor back injury, smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning, Loch said.
A flashover occurs when heat in an enclosed area becomes so intense that everything reaches its ignition temperature at the same time.
Fire officials said the stairwell was a vulnerable spot for the firefighter to be, but was the only way to reach the basement.
"When there's a fire in the basement, the stairwell actually acts like a chimney," Loch said.
The homeowner who was injured was being treated at Northwest Community Hospital for the burns and for smoke inhalation. He was expected to spend the night at the hospital, Loch said. The home is located two blocks south of the hospital.
Firefighters battled the flames, which had reached the first and second floors through the walls, for about two hours until it was under control.
"We decided to go defensive. We pretty much filled the basement up with water to put the fire out," Loch said.
A fire crew was still at the home putting out spot fires as of 10 p.m. and was expected to remain through the night.
The home sustained major damage, and officials estimated the damage to the structure at more than $200,000.
"The biggest thing is nobody got seriously hurt," Loch said.