Two families displaced by a 3-flat fire in the 7700 block of Monroe Street, Dec. 30-31, were trying to pick up the pieces this week. 

The families of Lisa Williams and Amy James lost everything in the stubborn blaze, which kept 60 firefighters working almost 12 hours before it was finally put down.

“Every day is different,” said James, who lived with her husband in the front unit with three of her four children, age 8-19. “I’m just trying to stay focused on the fact that everybody was saved,” she said. The James family is staying with relatives in Maywood. 

According to police reports, the fire started around 11 p.m., Dec. 30, allegedly after a child was playing with a firework in the basement. A relative of the child told police she observed the child playing with a lighter and told him to stop. She told police that, a few minutes later, she heard a hissing sound followed by a loud pop.

The fire quickly entered the building’s walls and continued to flare up all night. 

Neighboring fire departments from Oak Park, River Forest, Maywood, Stickney, Berwyn, Broadview and North Riverside assisted with the blaze, said Mayor Anthony Calderone. 

“At one point, Deputy Chief McDermott told me they were using 1,000 gallons of water per minute on the structure,” Calderone said. 

Police led 10 people out of the building, including the Williams and James families. 

By Thursday morning, a backhoe was tearing down the addition behind the building. The roof, floors and windows of the structure were gone and neighboring shrubbery was filled with icicles.

“I’m just trying to make sure it is safe,” said building owner Farzad Khaledan, of River Forest. “There were three families there and everyone is safe, thank goodness.”

Close call

Lisa Williams said she heard her daughter screaming from the basement that there was a fire. She grabbed her young godson and ran from the building.

 “I was wearing only a T-shirt and pajama pants,” she said. “I didn’t even grab my purse.”

Neighbors gave them coats to wear while the fire burned. After the fire was out, they were told the building was a total loss.

“We have nothing. They tore the building down. There’s nothing salvageable but a bicycle,” she said. Williams, her son, 17 and daughter, 21 are staying at a hotel in Hillside while they try to get their lives together.

“My family and friends are keeping me up with prayer. I’m trying to stay strong for my kids,” Williams said. The family had renter’s insurance, which will help. 

James and her three children were able to snatch coats and Amy’s purse before they ran from the apartment into the snow, she said.

“I was able to grab my laptop from the top of the stairs, but all the Christmas presents and everything else is gone,” James said.

Both the Williams and James families said their vehicles, parked behind the building, were un-usable due to frozen water from the fire.

The Review was unable to contact the third family saved from the building.

James said members of her church, Greater Rock Missionary Baptist in Chicago, were very helpful with donated clothing. Her son Chad, 8, attends Grant-White Elementary School and daughter Chelsea, 13, is a student at Forest Park Middle School. Another daughter, Alexis, is 18. 

James and Williams said they were trying to find new apartments, but the bitter cold and holidays slowed things down. 

“I’m getting calls from people who want to help and who are giving me encouraging words,” James said.

“This has never happened to me before, and I’d never wish this on anyone else,” said Williams. “I’ve heard from people from my old neighborhood and from my high school,” she said. “People are so generous. We’ve lost everything and the little things mean a lot.” “In the end,” she said, “it’s just material things that we’ve lost. The people are safe.”

How you can help

Donations of clothing or household items can be made to the displaced families at the Forest Park Community Center, said Director Karen Dylewski. Amy James provided an email address: thejamesfirefund@yahoo.com. More information will be provided as it becomes available.  

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...

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