Officials: Smoking near oxygen tanks caused Rolling Meadows fire

  • Authorities say smoking near oxygen tanks is to blame for the March 4 condominium fire in Rolling Meadows that killed one man and left dozens of residents homeless. The building in the 5200 block of Carriageway Drive remains uninhabitable.

      Authorities say smoking near oxygen tanks is to blame for the March 4 condominium fire in Rolling Meadows that killed one man and left dozens of residents homeless. The building in the 5200 block of Carriageway Drive remains uninhabitable. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 3/11/2015 5:54 AM

Smoking near oxygen tanks is being blamed for a Rolling Meadows condominium fire last week that left one man dead and displaced residents of nearly 50 units, police said Tuesday.

Rolling Meadows Police Cmdr. Tom Gadomski said the March 4 fire was "caused by a gentleman that was smoking inside the unit (where the fire began). There were multiple oxygen tanks inside the unit that contributed to the fire." The resident, Kenneth Vansickle, 55, was found below his balcony in the 5200 block of Carriageway Drive by the first firefighters who arrived on the scene. He later was pronounced dead at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights.

 

Officials are still waiting on his official cause of death from the Cook County Medical Examiner, but Gadomski said police believe he jumped from his third-floor unit.

"We believe he jumped because the fire was spreading," Gadomski said. "He couldn't get out the front door so he tried to get out through the patio."

Vansickle's wife was in the condo and was able to escape without injury.

Police said it's not clear if Vansickle was hooked up to an oxygen tank as he was smoking or how exactly the fire started. Vansickle had a medical condition that explained why there were multiple tanks in the condo.

Neighbors in units across the street reported feeling their building shake shortly after 8 p.m. last Wednesday and then saw flames from the condo building.

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Gadomski said the vibrations were caused by oxygen tanks exploding as the fire spread.

"It could have been a lot worse, but it was still pretty bad," he said.

Residents were allowed into the building over the weekend to gather personal belongings, but the building has been otherwise shut down, Gadomski said.

The Red Cross, Salvation Army and the property management company are working with residents to find temporary housing while the building undergoes repairs. Gadomski said he doesn't know how long that will take.

"The damage is very extensive," he said.

More than 100 firefighters from 24 departments throughout the Northwest suburbs spent four hours working to bring the blaze under control.

"It's a tough situation, but in the days since the fire there have been so many people offering assistance so many ways, it just brings me joy to see neighbors helping neighbors," said Annette Byrd, vice president of Associa Chicagoland, which owns the Fountains on Carriageway Condos where the fire occurred.

Associa Cares, a nonprofit disaster relief foundation, will be pledging close to $50,000 to help affected families purchase items they may need, according to a news release.

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