Allen "Al" R. Jacobs got into a car accident as a teenager that left him without the use of his legs. Longtime friend Randy Albrecht said Jacobs always feared his death would come when something happened and he wouldn't be able to get away.
Albrecht, of Lake in the Hills, stood outside the charred remains of Jacobs' apartment building Sunday, thinking about the life of his 47-year-old friend, cut short after an early morning blaze.
The Huntley Fire Protection District responded at 6:12 a.m. to the fire in a six-unit building of Woodcreek Apartments, 11702 Woodcreek Drive, Huntley. The fire started in Jacobs' first-floor apartment and spread up through the second- and third-floor units above his.
Fire Chief Kenneth Caudle said firefighters withstood single digit temperatures outside while battling the fire.
"Extreme temperatures always make things take a little bit longer than normal," Caudle said, adding that firefighters can only work so long in such frigid air before needing a break. "That's why we called for extra help right away."
Fifteen neighboring departments responded to aid the Huntley Fire Protection District Sunday morning. One Huntley firefighter suffered a minor injury, for which he was taken to Sherman Hospital in Elgin, treated and released, Caudle said.
Residents in the five other units got out of the building without injury.
Luis Rosales and his family lives in the apartment two floors above Jacobs'. Rosales said he smelled the smoke and saw it coming through the vents in his apartment just before his family left. They didn't have renters' insurance and grappled Sunday with the loss of most of their belongings.
Rosales said the family would stay with relatives for the next few days and then move into another building in the Woodcreek Apartments complex. They returned to their apartment Sunday afternoon to pack up clothes, electronics and other possessions that survived the smoke damage.
Flames did reach the third floor, though, and Rosales pointed to his charred mattress on the ground outside the apartment building.
Once police and fire officials cleared the scene, workers arrived to cover the blown-out windows with plywood. Neighbors drove slowly by, taking in the burned, wet items that were thrown out of the apartments in the cleanup. Icicles hung from the porches, crystallized evidence of the fire hoses' work earlier that morning.
Albrecht said Jacobs was a great guy who especially liked computers and college basketball. He spent his entire adult life in a wheelchair, but Albrecht said he still got around and truly lived.
"He accepted what happened to him and kept going," Albrecht said.
The Huntley Police and Fire departments are jointly investigating the fire along with the Office of the State Fire Marshal. The fire does not appear suspicious, according to the fire district. Investigators believe it may have been started accidentally.