Police officer caught child thrown from burning apartment building in West Chicago

As fire raced through their apartment building in West Chicago early Thursday, several residents made harrowing escapes from the blaze.

A police officer caught a child thrown from the 24-unit building in the Main Park Apartments complex, West Chicago Fire Protection District Chief Patrick Tanner said.

One woman jumped from a third-floor window, Tanner said. She was one of five people injured after the fire broke out in the three-story building on the 800 block of Burr Oaks Drive.

Rafael Lozano was in his third-floor apartment when he heard alarms. The 36-year-old West Chicago man said he escaped through the smoke-filled hallway and stairs. One of his roommates, however, had to climb down the balcony to safety.

"It was horrible," he said. "People were screaming and running."

All told, an estimated 100 people were displaced from their apartments, though authorities don't yet have an exact number.

It's the second major fire to hit the complex in about a year. Last December, a fire forced residents in the apartment building next door to find alternative housing.

"It was the same complex, the exact same layout of the building, and pretty much the same result," Tanner said. "Because of the way the utilities are set up, the whole building is uninhabitable now."

Residents and pets displaced by Thursday's fire were gathering at New Hope United Methodist Church in West Chicago, where the American Red Cross and police were offering help through a reception center. Many of the residents will be staying overnight in the church.

Tanner said he understands three of the five people who were injured already have been released from the hospital. Two others, including the woman, are still being evaluated.

"She did have to jump from the third-floor window because the fire was entering her unit," Tanner said.

The fire appeared to start in a second-floor bedroom closet. Officials are still investigating the exact cause of the fire, but it does not appear to be suspicious, Tanner said.

"I've been doing this quite a long time, 40 years, and the amount of fire that was in that one unit that communicated to the other ... seven units on the second and third floor was absolutely incredible," Tanner said. "Not quite sure exactly what accounted for that. But the fire in the third-floor apartments was significantly bad, almost as bad as where the original fire started."

The upper eight units are destroyed, according to the complex owner, Vijay Gupta. The buildings in the complex are about 50 years old.

"It's really unfortunate that this happened around the holidays," Gupta said.

He said he spoke with the woman who lives in the apartment where the fire started.

"The tenant saw the smoke and then saw flames in the closet," he said. The tenant said she tried to put the fire out with water and a fire extinguisher but could not, and she ran out of the building.

Lozano returned to the apartment building Thursday afternoon to retrieve his cellphone from a police officer. Everything else, he said, is gone.

"I'm left with nothing," he said, noting he was able to get some clothing at the Methodist church.

Lozano, who lived with some co-workers, said he plans to stay with another co-worker for the time being. "I'm sad, but I'm OK," he added.

In the church, West Chicago police distributed cages, crates and other supplies to assist displaced families with pets. Ashley Randall, disaster program manager for the American Red Cross, said there were about 60 to 90 people they were expecting to help.

Volunteers will work to ensure people in need have a safe place to stay and their medication replaced, Red Cross spokeswoman Connie Esparza said. The reception center in the church also is offering meals.

Firefighters and West Chicago police were alerted to the blaze at 1:11 a.m.

"Police actually put up a ladder that they found on the scene before our arrival," Tanner said. "We did not have to rescue specifically anybody. They either walked out of the building or rescued themselves."

Arriving crews saw flames coming from the second-floor balcony and the third-floor balcony from the front of the building, as well as from the second-floor balcony in the rear of the structure.

"When they first pulled up, the volume of fire was so great that they used what we call a deck gun or a pre-piped waterway that's on the top of the engine that has large quantities of water," Tanner said.

A damage estimate was not immediately available. The fire primarily damaged the east side of the building, which has its own address. But electric, water and gas had to be shut off to the entire building, the chief said.

Last December's fire in the neighboring building was electrical in nature, Tanner said. Gupta said it was started by a bathroom fan.

"It's just a unique situation where you've had two buildings next to each other that caught on fire," Tanner said. "And I don't think it's anything specific but just bad timing and bad luck, if you will."

  Multiple people were injured in an early morning apartment fire on the 800 block of Burr Oaks Drive in West Chicago. Paul Valade/
  Multiple people were injured in an early morning apartment fire on the 800 block of Burr Oaks Drive in West Chicago. Paul Valade/
  Multiple people were injured in an early morning apartment fire on the 800 block of Burr Oaks Drive in West Chicago. Paul Valade/
  West Chicago police officers remain on the scene Thursday morning where multiple people were injured in an early morning apartment fire on the 800 block of Burr Oaks Drive in West Chicago. Paul Valade/
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