Twenty-four families were waiting to hear Saturday afternoon where they would be relocated after a fire destroyed an apartment building between Lombard and Glen Ellyn in unincorporated DuPage County.
Residents were told by Willow Lake Apartments management they would be provided alternate housing, resident and College of DuPage student Brandon Solebo said Saturday afternoon, as he loaded his mother's car with some of his belongings.
Half the three-story building was heavily damaged by the fire, which caved in the roof. A firewall in the middle prevented the fire from spreading to the other half, but all building residents had to evacuate and spend the rest of the night elsewhere.
Solebo, whose apartment is on the side not damaged by fire, said he was told the building would have to be torn down.
The property manager declined to comment.
Resident Natasha Love said she and her boyfriend were up when they heard the building's fire alarm just before 2 a.m. They rushed outside and called 911, but it seemed like it took 45 minutes for the fire department to arrive, Love said. Fire officials say the first firefighters arrived on the scene in seven minutes, but that it took additional time to set up equipment and secure adequate water.
Love's boyfriend, Taurus George, said he stood outside and watched the fire spread from a third floor A/C unit to the entire roof of the building before he saw firefighters begin to battle the fire.
"We were just standing there, hearing sirens, wondering, 'Are they coming?' Love said.
Their second floor apartment is in the side of the building damaged by the fire. George said he was able to go inside once the fire was out to get his car keys. "There was a lot of water damage," he said.
"We're trying to figure out what to do," Love said.
Lt. Craig Eldridge, public information officer for the Glen Ellyn Volunteer Fire Company, said firefighters were dispatched by at 1:52 a.m. and were on the scene seven minutes later.
The fire alarms at Willow Lake are not monitored by an alarm company, so residents must call 911 for emergency responders to be dispatched, he said.
"That's the northeast corner of our district, so these times are actually very good, " he said. "I'm very comfortable with, and I know Chief (Jim) Bodony is very happy with, our response this morning."
Also, the building's roof is made of wood, Eldridge said. "If it catches on fire, it can spread pretty quick."
However, Glen Ellyn Volunteer's efforts were hampered by the distance to the fire hydrants and the low water pressure, Eldridge said. Crowded parking lots made it difficult to park fire engines close to the building, and parked cars obscured the location of the hydrants, he said.
"One engine stretched (a water hose) over 100 feet to get to nearest hydrant ... The second one maybe a good 50 feet," he said.
"It was probably a number of minutes before water was flowing, but it was necessary delays in getting equipment and getting set up."
It took about 30 to 45 minutes "to start getting an effective knock on the fire" and three hours to put it out, Eldridge said.
Altogether, Glen Ellyn Volunteer responded with more than 20 firefighters, and was assisted by another 30 or so firefighters from 14 neighboring fire departments.
The fire is under investigation by the DuPage County Fire Investigation Task Force; no cause had been determined yet. The American Red Cross assisted in relocating residents to temporary shelter Saturday morning.
Willow Lake Apartments has a Lombard address but is in unincorporated DuPage County.
Lombard Fire Department Lt. Joe Kielczynski said his department assisted with one fire engine when the fire alarm was upgraded to a 211 box alarm. Initially there was some confusion as to whose jurisdiction it was, but then it was determined it was Glen Ellyn Volunteer's, he said.
Eldridge said his department knew right away it was its jurisdiction when it got the call. "It's been ours for years. We go there constantly for false alarms."