A 20-year-old Buffalo Grove man is accused of sparking a fast-moving brush fire that produced a 30-foot wall of flames threatening dozens of homes Sunday afternoon.
Firefighters from more than 20 departments helped battle the blaze, which spread to a number of power lines and ripped through 30 acres of dry brush, officials said.
"We had a wall of 30-foot flames come toward our homes," said Buffalo Grove Police Sgt. Scott Kristiansen. "The flames made it as close as 15 feet to some homes."
The blaze, which fire officials said was fueled by dry conditions, burned down utility poles and torched multiple power lines causing about 2,400 ComEd customers to lose power.
An off-duty Morton Grove police officer in the area spotted four people running from the scene of the fire and was able to stop them before Buffalo Grove police arrived. Police said the group was lighting off illegal fireworks, which sparked the brush.
Officers arrested Gabriel R. Horwich, 20, and charged him with criminal damage to property by reckless means of fire, a felony carrying a sentence of up to 3 years in prison.
A resident in the 400 block of Cedar Court North called in the fire at about 1:10 p.m., and firefighters quickly escalated the response to a box alarm. About 21 departments sent firefighters to the scene northwest of the intersection of Buffalo Grove and Aptakisic Roads.
"It was a large, fast-moving fire in the swampy marsh area," said Batallion Chief Shawn Collins of the Buffalo Grove fire department. "Companies began an aggressive attack and then escalated the alarm to get more equipment."
Fire officials pulled crews back once electric poles and live wires caught fire. Firefighters then set up a perimeter around the blaze to prevent it from spreading to the neighborhoods to the north and south of the brush, Collins said.
"It's been so dry. In these kinds of weather conditions it doesn't take much," Kristiansen said.
Police quickly evacuated the residents of about 25 homes as the flames spread.
"We were very lucky no people were hurt and no homes were damaged," Kristiansen said. "The fire department did an exceptional job."
ComEd restored power to nearly all the homes by Sunday night, but the blaze caused about $150,000 in damages to the wires and poles, Kristiansen said.
Police said the three people with Horwich had not been charged as of Sunday night, but the investigation was ongoing.
Horwich is due in bond court Monday morning.