Fire still under investigation at Villa Park VFW
Fire investigators are still trying to determine the cause of a blaze that injured 10 people when a fire broke out in the basement of Villa Park VFW Post 2801 Tuesday evening, Villa Park fire officials said.
Lt. Michael Barton of the Villa Park Fire Department said a total of nine people were transported to three area hospitals following the 6:30 p.m. blaze at 39 E. Saint Charles Road.
He said one of the patients refused to be transported from the scene of the fire while two others were transported from the area hospitals to Loyola Medical Center in Maywood.
He said the fire broke out just as nearly 70 people had gathered for a weekly bingo night.
Multiple people were trapped in office areas of the Veterans of Foreign Wars building and were rescued about 6:30 p.m. by emergency crews who broke through windows from the outside of the building.
Two people suffered severe injuries, according to fire officials, who said three others suffered serious injuries.
The fire was sparked in the shooting range in the basement, where workers were welding a backstop, Post Cmdr. Dennis Geiseman said.
Elmhurst resident Bob Blewett was waiting for bingo to start in the bar area next to the range when the fire ignited. He said he witnessed two workers escape the gun range before a blast blew the door to the range open. One of the workers was injured and was telling everybody to evacuate the building.
"Within a second or two after that, there was a big flash, and the fire shot out of the gun range and up the stairs," he said.
He said a female worker was headed up the stairs and was badly burned.
"Within seconds, it turned to deep, dense, dark black smoke and filled everything up," he said.
Barton said fire investigators are still trying to determine if there were any explosions, or whether the gun powder from the range had anything to do with sparking the blaze.
"It wasn't a lot of fire, but a lot of smoke because fore got into the insulation and burned up quickly," he said.
He said the blaze was under control and out by 7:30 p.m.
Blewett, 46, made his way out of the building but headed back in to the smoke-filled basement to save a World War II veteran.
"You couldn't really see anything. There was just thick black smoke," he said. "He was walking toward us, and we kind of bumped into him."
Most people were upstairs in the main hall, but about 10 were in a smaller room next to the shooting range.
Three VFW staff members stayed inside the building during the evacuation process to help people escape, Geiseman said. All three suffered burns and were taken to area hospitals before they were transferred to Loyola University Medical Center's burn unit later Tuesday night.
Geiseman said he was walking into the building when the fire started.
"It was very smokey," he said. "The rescue went as planned — to get out of the building in a safe, efficient manner — and that's exactly what they did."
Geiseman said the flames were mostly contained to the range, but the rest of the building sustained heavy smoke damage.
"Over the years, all the gun powder probably built up," Lombard Battalion Chief Ronald Rakosnik told ABC 7 Chicago on Tuesday night. "The guys welding ignited the gunpowder, it appears. We are going to do an investigation right now."
Rakosnik said an explosion occurred as occupants of the building were exiting up the staircase from the basement to the first floor.
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