Palatine condo complex fire ruled accidental, likely related to smoking
Palatine fire investigators have determined the March 19 fire in a three-story building at the Windhaven condominiums that left 22 units uninhabitable and displaced dozens of residents was accidental and likely caused by improper disposal of smoking materials.
Palatine fire Deputy Chief Anthony Lavacchi said the investigation report is not complete, but investigators believe the fire started on a balcony.
Lavacchi said investigators were assisted in their work through the use of a Palatine police department drone that allowed a view of the building that would otherwise have been unavailable.
"We couldn't go into the building anymore, because of the structural damage, so use of the drone gave the investigators an ability to look at the building where they may not have been able to walk," he said.
Palatine fire personnel responded to the fire at 12A Dundee Quarter Drive at 5:12 p.m. As crews attacked the fire, wind helped propel the flames across the attic space in 12A Dundee Quarter into the adjoining attic space at 12B Dundee Quarter.
"The wind made a difference in this fire without question," Lavacchi said.
Through the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System, additional firefighters and emergency medical crews were called to the scene at 5:47 p.m.
At about 5:48 p.m., a partial roof collapse separated fire crews, and a mayday was called.
A portable ground ladder enabled a firefighter on a third-floor balcony to exit the balcony safely, and the mayday was canceled.
The fire was under control by 8:37 p.m., but fire crews remained on the scene until about 6 a.m. Monday. Altogether, 60 firefighters with eight engines, three ladder trucks and nine ambulances responded, along with nine command officers.
Units from multiple fire departments also stood by at Palatine fire stations to provide coverage for any additional calls.
The Palatine Police Department and the Red Cross were on the scene to assist displaced residents in finding temporary shelter. The Red Cross said 50 to 60 people were displaced by the fire.
It was the second fire in the complex in more than two years. The fire at 15B Dundee Quarter Drive on Dec. 23, 2020 rendered 11 units uninhabitable.
Lavacchi said the big difference between the two fires was the direction of the wind, which in the case of last week's fire was blowing toward the north and adjacent units, while the wind was headed in the opposite direction during the 2020 fire, blowing away from adjacent units.
The buildings were topped with mansard-style roofs, as was the case with a 2018 condominium fire in Prospect Heights.
Lavacchi said the mansard-style roof can aggravate the conditions of a fire.
"It can allow for fire spread through the mansard structure," he said. "It depends on how they're constructed. If you've got an open area that allows for fire to move unimpeded, then it can go from one area to another."
People Helping People and Christ Lutheran Church collaborated Monday and Tuesday to organize and host drive-through collections for items to help the displaced families. Palatine-based Partners For Our Communities also has launched a donation drive to help families left homeless by the fire. Several online fundraisers also have been created at GoFundMe to help the families.
The Palatine Fire Department emphasized the importance of working smoke detectors and an escape plan, as well as not delaying exiting a home to search for pets or belongings in case of an emergency.
Lavacchi also pointed out the importance of renter's insurance.
"Typically renter's insurance is pretty inexpensive, and a lot of people don't know it's available," he said.