CHICAGO (WLS) — One person has died as Chicago firefighters battled an extra-alarm blaze that climbed through multiple floors of a South Side high-rise Wednesday.
The fire spread to several floors of the 25-story Harper Square Co-Operative building in the 4800-block of South Lake Park Avenue, CFD spokesman Larry Langford said.
Langford said one person was found dead in the building on the 15th floor.
Video from scene showed the fire climbing up the building in a column, perhaps reaching as many as nine floors.
The fire has since been put out.
This was a challenging blaze for first responders, not just because it is a high-rise but because the elevators went out early, meaning equipment and personalell has to get up there by foot.
Then there was also the factor of weather. Strong winds contributed to a really fast spread, all this happening as firefighters were trying to prioritize who needed to be evacuated and who could stay put.
CFD Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt said a resident on the 15th floor noticed smoke at about 10:08 a.m. and called 911.
“What we encountered here was because the fire went from the 15th all the way to the 14th floor was the fact that the wind was pushing,” Nance-Holt said. “The fire went up vertically and it lapped from floor, to floor, to floor all the way up to 24 where my firefighters gained control of it.”
Hundreds of personnel were raced to the scene trying hard to stay ahead of it. The priority was making sure that the residents, were safe.
“We got a list of people who were maybe physically challenged. We got to those units first. We prioritized those guys and then made announcements as we evaluated conditions,” Deputy Commissioner Mark Furman said.
Those who were able to get out safely did self-evacuate. Many more were asked to stay in put.
“High-rise building is fire resistance construction — is built with fire separations built in. The doors are fire rated doors to the apartment units. The stairways are enclosed, the hallways. It’s set up so you can remain in your unit and still be safe,” Furman said.
Leanne Faine said a neighbor knocked on her door to tell her and her husband about the fire.
“We ran down the stairs — we are on the 8th floor — they told us it was 15 and up so we didn’t know what to do. We ran down to the garage and got our car,” Faine said.
Phyllis Powell was at work nearby when her husband’s caregiver alerted her. They made it out of their unit but got stuck on the 7th floor.
“We tried to leave and fireman said we had to stay in place because we were three floors down from our place. We just had to stay. Couldn’t go down or couldn’t go up,” Powell said.
Another resident said a worker in the building told her about the fire.
“I asked, ‘Are we evacuating?’ And he said no and he stayed calm so I stayed calm. I didn’t realize the severity of it until I saw on the news,” said resident Astrid Exorthe.
She and others did evacuate on their own mainly due to the smoke and water damage.
CFD said a 70-year-old woman was transported a hospital in critical condition. Nance-Holt said eight residents were hospitalized. One firefighter was who suffered an ortho injury was also taken to a hospital.
A woman in her 80’s, who lived on the floor where the fire broke out, did lose her life. A close friend got the devastating news as she looked on praying for the best.
“I grew up here in the building and I always viewed her as an aunt,” said the victim’s friend Jauntanne Mayes. “I came back to check on to see how she was doing, if she was Ok because I had been trying to call and call and nobody had been able to reach her.”
News of the fatality is being felt by residents and neighbors.
“It’s heartbreaking I’ve lived here for years,” said former resident Kamisha Hudson.
“I’m sad for the family who had the loss and really appreciate what these guys do because it could have been a lot worse,” said Theresa Riley, a friend of a resident.
The I-Team reports that the building has failed its seven last inspections by the Department. of Buildings, including the most recent one on December 1, 2022, for not testing the fire alarm and evacuation system
The apartment building, which was built in 1970, has 298 apartments in it, with about 267 units occupied, officials said.
WATCH: CFD officials provide update on deadly high-rise fire
“I decided to come downstairs to check everything out,” one building resident said. “I noticed people looking up at the building and then I just went downstairs and I saw that the fire was blazing at that time. I called my mom because my aunt is still in the building…right now she is safe in someone else’s unit.
Around 12:30 p.m. CFD said the fire was struck. Nance-Holt said more than 300 personnel responded to the fire.
“A lot of people live here. A lot of people have been living here for 30 and 40 years so this is certainly devastating to me and them and their families, “state Representative Lamont Robinson said. “We want to thank the first responders for containing the fire.”
Alderman Sophia King said everyone in harm’s way was evacuated from the building, but some residents can remain in the building safely. Langford said some residents have been asked to shelter in their units.
“The protocol that we use with the Chicago Fire Department when dealing with a high-rise building, some units would be best for shelter in place and others evacuate,” Langford said. “What we generally do is evacuate the floor above and below the fire, depending upon the size of the building and the footprint of the building. A building like this, if you are some distance away and floors down and above, the fire is not spreading laterally, it is spreading vertically, so you are safe in some of the units.”
The Office of Emergency Managment is on scene with warming buses for residents and first responders.
The Salvation Army said they will be providing dinner for the residents and first responders. They are cooking 500 chicken sandwiches at the Elk Grove Village EDS kitchen and will have them delivered to the scene.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
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