Firefighters found an Indiana teenager dead Monday after extinguishing a blaze in Steger, while fires in the south and west suburbs left several families homeless and destroyed one business. In addition to Steger, the sub- and near-zero temperatures challenged firefighters battling blazes in Country Club Hills, Ford Heights and Cicero.
In Steger, Charles M. Brown, 18, of Dyer was declared dead at 12:42 p.m. Monday in a residence in the 100 block of East 34th Street.
Police Chief Richard Stultz said the fire call came in at 12:53 a.m. Firefighters put out the blaze, which “entirely destroyed” a three-story home that had been converted into apartments, Stultz said.
People were evacuated from the third-floor unit, but firefighters believed the basement and first and second floors were vacant, Stultz said. While going through the debris later in the day, they found Brown’s body on the floor in the basement, he said.
The home’s owners said Brown “wasn’t supposed to be in there,” Stultz said. “In fact, he didn’t even live there.”
Investigators looking into the cause of the fire also hope to figure out why the victim was there.
Brown’s death appears to have been related to the fire, Stultz said. The working theory is that he died of smoke inhalation. An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday.
More than 75 firefighters from throughout the south suburbs assisted Country Club Hills in fighting a fire that gutted a six-unit townhouse complex in the 60-building Provincetown subdivision.
Six families were left homeless as a result of the fire in the 2300 block of Windsor Lane, Fire Chief Gary Kasper said. One person had first- and second-degree leg burns in the blaze, but the injuries did not appear to be life-threatening, said Wanda Comein, the municipality’s spokeswoman.
The origin and cause of the blaze were not immediately known. Some witnesses, however, said it appeared a van pulling up to the rear of the structure may have struck a gas meter, setting off the blaze. The van also was destroyed in the fire.
Firefighters battled the blaze for nearly two hours, Kasper said. The fire was reported about 10:30 a.m., and when firefighters arrived on the scene, they had to contend with two frozen hydrants, he said.
“Whenever you have a fire in weather like this, it definitely doesn’t help us,” Kasper said.
A canteen truck was on the scene to provide firefighters with hot coffee and sandwiches. The City of Country Club Hills also brought shuttle buses to the scene where firefighters could take a break and warm up.
About eight residents who were in the townhouse complex when the fire began were alerted by neighbors who saw smoke pouring out of the structure.
One woman was awakened by two Maltese puppies, said Earlene Haden, who lives across the street and helped knock on doors.
“Those two adorable, fluffy little white puppies turned out to be her little angels,” said Haden, who had firefighters bring the dogs into her home for shelter.
Onnie Beard, another neighbor, said she felt sorry for the residents who lost their homes but said the subdivision is a close-knit community and people will pull together to help those in need.
Those left homeless were taken to the Country Club Hills City Hall, where the American Red Cross was trying to find them temporary shelter, said Juanita Apreal Williamson of the Provincetown Improvement Association.
In Ford Heights, firefighters also had to contend with frozen hydrants in battling an early morning blaze that gutted a liquor store and tavern at Ellis Avenue and U.S. Highway 30.
A water tanker truck from Richton Park was called in to help douse the blaze. Firefighters also strung hoses for about a half-block to a hydrant that was functioning, said Deputy Fire Chief Robert McMath.
Two men were helped out of the building by a Ford Heights police officer who spotted the fire. Neither man was injured, McMath said. The cause of the blaze remained under investigation late Monday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Cicero firefighters encountered frozen fire hoses and a hydrant fighting an early morning fire in a home that left at least one family out in the cold.
No injuries were reported after the blaze broke out around 1:30 a.m. in the 1200 block of South 51st Avenue. A town spokesman did not know how many residents lived in the house but said the Red Cross was working with those who were displaced.
Cicero officials said they did not immediately know the cause of the fire.