An early morning fire that started in the basement apartment of a brick three-flat on Monroe Avenue last week has displaced several residents. Minor injuries were reported, but local fire and police crews were able to rescue several residents and thwart a potentially deadly situation.
The first 911 call for the Oct. 3 blaze was received by the village at 3:35 a.m., according to Fire Chief Steve Glinke, and a police officer was the first to arrive. Police and firefighters helped two people escape the basement apartment at 7700 Monroe Ave. and ladders were used to reach three more people on the building’s second floor. Another occupant jumped out of a first-story window, Glinke said.
The building stands at the corner of Monroe and Jackson streets, just a few blocks from the police and fire stations.
“The fire was pretty much contained to the basement apartment,” Glinke said.
Firefighters were able to bring the flames under control in about 30 minutes, but remained at the address for roughly an hour. Six people were in the building at the time of the fire, Glinke said, two of whom had to be taken to a nearby hospital. One individual suffered minor burns and another was suffering from smoke inhalation.
“It’s still under investigation, but we’re pretty sure it was accidental,” Glinke said.
The manager of the rental property said the building had five tenants and all of them were able to find other accommodations that day. She suggested the conflagration was caused by a candle that perhaps had been lit to combat a power outage in the neighborhood.
A police report, however, suggested the fire may have started when a woman used a match as a light source as she searched through her purse. The lit match fell into the purse and ultimately set the couch on fire.
Aside from the fire department’s investigation of the incident, officials in the Department of Public Health and Safety expect to cite the owners of the property for a number of potential code violations.
“That basement apartment where the fire started was added without permits and without approvals,” department Director Mike Boyle said.
When Ivan and Danielle Svestka of North Riverside purchased the property in April 2004, the village’s inspection confirmed the property as a two-flat, according to Boyle. Because the project never came before the village for approval, Boyle said he has no idea whether the space was constructed with an eye toward safety. Building inspectors will check the property for smoke detectors, shoddy electrical work, and available exits in addition to a host of other items.
Ivan Svestka confirmed Friday that he has received a citation since the fire for renting the basement unit. Svestka said he has no prior experience as a landlord and did not know that permits were necessary.
“To be frankly honest with you, I was not aware,” Svestka said. “This is my first endeavor into rental properties. I didn’t do this maliciously or in a concealed way.”
Boyle said it was not clear whether the renovation work may have hindered any rescue or fire suppression efforts.
“We will make certain that that apartment unit is not rebuilt,” Boyle said. “That’s not even an option. That’s not even a possibility. Additionally, the owner could face citations for any number of code violations, both zoning code and construction code.”
Depending on the extent of the damage to the property, the owners may not be able to reconstruct the building into a multi-family home. The neighborhood is zoned for single-family homes and local zoning codes prohibit the reconstruction of non-conforming properties.
It’s unlikely the village will make a determination on this issue until the property owner submits an estimate on what it will cost to rebuild, Boyle said. Svestka was expecting an insurance adjustor to view the damage on Monday.
That estimate will be compared to the property’s value and if the cost of repairs is greater than 50 percent of the total value, the village may rule that only a single-family home can be constructed at the site.
Also responding to the fire were neighboring crews from River Forest, Oak Park, North Riverside, Berwyn, Cicero and Maywood. A River Forest firefighter was treated for a cut to his hand.