1 dead, 8 hospitalized after Chicago high-rise fire starts on 15th floor

Chicago authorities said one person has died and eight others were taken to hospitals Wednesday as firefighters responded to a high-rise apartment building fire on the city's South Side, battling flames that leaped up 10 floors as snow fell.

Chicago Fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt said the eight people taken to hospitals were all stable by early Wednesday afternoon. She said one firefighter had a minor injury but was doing well.

Sophia King, the alderman for the area, said the person who died was found in the apartment where officials believe the fire began, on the 15th floor. Authorities have not released further information about the person who died.

Video from outside the building in the Kenwood neighborhood showed bright orange flames on multiple floors before firefighters got them under control. Damage was visible from the ground, including blown out windows and a blackened building exterior.

The Chicago Fire Department said the fire was initially reported around 10 a.m. and was under control by 12:30 p.m. "It was a fast-moving fire," Deputy Fire Commissioner Marc Ferman said. "And it was tough just staying ahead of it."

Nance-Holt said more than 300 fire and Emergency Medical Service workers responded to the blaze; the cause is still under investigation.

She said the fire began on the 15th level and lapped up to the 24th level, traveling from one floor to another as firefighters raced to stay ahead of the flames.

"They did an outstanding job," Nance-Holt said. "It just went straight vertically, and they did everything they could to put that fire out."

King said many of the residents of the building are older.

"I will tell you when I first walked up, I was aghast and my heart sunk," she said. "But after talking to leadership, first responders, they have the situation under control."

Barbara Joiner, a 69-year-old resident, stood outside the building with other neighbors as snow continued to fall. Joiner said she acts as a caretaker for another woman who lives in the portion of the building affected by the fire and was anxiously trying to reach her.

"Oh, my God," she said, remembering her reaction to seeing the flames once she got outside. "These flames are still rising."

More than 30 minutes after the fire broke out, residents in the building received an email alert from the leasing company asking them to stay indoors and wait for further instruction from the fire department, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Some residents objected to receiving alerts only by email.

Furman said firefighters "got a list of people who were maybe physically challenged. We got to those units first. We prioritized those guys and then made announcements as we evaluated conditions."

Many in the building were asked to remain in their apartments because of the "fire resistance construction" of the building, he said. "The doors are fire-rated doors to the apartment units. The stairways are enclosed, the hallways. It's set up so you can remain in your unit and still be safe."

Nance-Holt said fire crews used the complex's communication system to alert residents. She said there are battery-operated smoke alarms in the apartments and hard-wired smoke alarms in the hallways, but she could not say whether they were working.

The building has failed seven inspections since Oct. 27, 2021, according to city records, the Sun-Times reported. The last inspection, on Dec. 1, 2022, cited management for failing to provide an annual fire alarm test for the building, according to records from the city's Department of Buildings.

Flames leap skyward out of the Harper Square cooperative residential building in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago. Associated Press
Two women watch as flames leap skyward out of the Harper Square cooperative residential building in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago, Wednesday. Associated Press
Chicago firefighters look out windows a few floors below where flames leap skyward at the Harper Square cooperative residential building in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago. Associated Press
Chicago Firefighter Mose Demasi looks up at the Harper Square cooperative residential building after he and others fought a multi-floor fire at the high-rise in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago, Wednesday. Associated Press
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