Fire in the pouring rain displaces three families

Building owner says he will rebuild the three-flat

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By Robert J. Lifka

Contributing Reporter

An early morning fire, Oct. 14, left a three-unit apartment building at 1124 Marengo Ave. uninhabitable and displaced two families, but no injuries or fatalities were reported.

Fire Chief Bob McDermott said the fire apparently started in the top floor apartment around 1:30 a.m. When fire crews arrived, flames were showing in all windows on the top floor, he added. Forest Park firefighters were assisted by firefighters from North Riverside, Oak Park, and River Forest, which are Forest Park's usual mutual aid respondents, as well as firefighters from Berwyn, Cicero and Maywood. McDermott said firefighters were on the scene in the pouring rain until almost 5 a.m.

Forest Park police were on the scene first and helped residents in the top floor and the basement apartments escape unharmed. The main floor apartment was unoccupied while building owner Eric Jensen did remodeling. Police also evacuated residents of neighboring homes.

Crystal Lewis, who lives in the basement apartment, said she was able to escape with her son, her boyfriend, and their two dogs. She said the top floor tenant, Jackie Quinones, and her three teenage sons also escaped unharmed.

"It was all pure luck," Lewis said. "I just happened to wake up and heard a smoke detector going off.

"By the time we got out, the whole third floor was on fire and all the windows were blown out."

Lewis said Quinones and her oldest son were not in the apartment but nearby when the fire broke out. She learned of the blaze when one of her younger sons telephoned. Lewis said Quinones told her sons to run out of the building and was able to meet them when she arrived at the apartment moments later.

McDermott said the cause of the fire is still under investigation but indicated he does not suspect foul play. He said investigators were on the scene for five hours Saturday and continuing their investigation this week.

McDermott said the top floor apartment was destroyed by fire and the other two apartments suffered water damage, which made them uninhabitable. He said it appears the roof stayed intact but could not speculate whether the building would have to come down. 

Jensen said he plans to rebuild the structure, which was built in 1907.

"Nobody got hurt and we're all safe," he said. "We'll survive."

Tracey Diederich, a neighbor, has set up a GoFundMe page, https://www.gofundme.com/ForestParkFire101317, to collect donations for the residents. She also has set up a fund at Forest Park National Bank and has arranged with Marty Sorice, owner of Carole's Next Best Thing, 7307 Roosevelt Road, for donations of toiletries and clothing to be dropped off there.

The GoFundMe page goal is $4,000 — $2,000 for each family, Diederich said. As of Monday, over $1,700 had been raised.

Diederich, who recently moved into Forest Park, said she started the fund even though she didn't really know her neighbors.

"They've got enough on their plates right now," she explained. "I didn't see anybody doing anything, so I had to pick up the torch and carry it."

McDermott said one North Riverside firefighter suffered a twisted ankle but was treated at the scene and did not need hospitalization. The fire was the third this month for the department and its new engine, which McDermott said "worked very well."  

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Gia Rombakis from FOREST PARK  

Posted: October 17th, 2017 5:44 PM

Kudos to Karrie Schlichting, Martin Sorice Sr. and the staff at Carole's for mobilizing so quickly to help these families. Social media worked miracles in those wee hours of the morning. It was wonderful to see our community come together so quickly.

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