Some residents of the four-story building at 1020 Desplaines Ave. may be able to return to their apartments this week after a June 12 fire, Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone said Monday.
One minor injury was reported and around 70 people were displaced after a blaze broke out on the second floor of the four-story, 60-unit senior housing apartment building around 11:30 p.m.
Firefighters climbed ladders to the second floor behind the building to put out the blaze. Around 70 firefighters responded to a request for mutual aid from 10 neighboring departments including Cicero, Berwyn, North Riverside, Oak Park, River Forest and Elmwood Park.
The official cause of the fire was still unavailable Monday night, Calderone said. However, the woman in the damaged unit told police she had plugged in a newly purchased lamp, and then left the room. When she returned, she told police she smelled smoke and saw flames and smoke coming from the electrical socket where the lamp was plugged in. The woman told police she attempted to put out the fire herself and burned her arms. She refused to go to the hospital until her two cats were accounted for, police said. When pets were located, after about two hours, the woman agreed to medical care.
Andene Maughn, who also lived on the second floor, said she was asleep when a phone call from her neighbor urged her to get out of the building. She said the hall was filled with smoke when she opened her apartment door to escape.
As the firefighters finished their work, residents waited outside, some with blankets around their shoulders. Some clutched pets.
The second floor unit where the fire began had severe smoke and fire damage, as did neighboring units, police reports said.
The village and Red Cross took 26 residents to the Forest Park Community Center around midnight. With the Red Cross, village employees made individual lists of every medication left behind at the building and retrieved medications in plastic bags listed by apartment number, he said.
“We wrapped up around 5 a.m.,” Calderone said.
Many residents were dressed only in “sleeping clothes,” the mayor said.
“We gave them blankets, but some didn’t even have socks on their feet. One resident was in his underwear. We gave him a blanket. ”
Calderone said a Forest Park police officer and a community center employee went to Walmart between 2 and 3 a.m. and asked to purchase socks, T-shirts, some sweatshirts and a pair of sweat pants for the displaced seniors.
“We went prepared to pay for the stuff, but Walmart was very compassionate and donated everything,” Calderone said.
The village also found an all-night pizzeria, DiNico’s in Berwyn, to supply pizzas for the victims, Calderone said. “They sure came in handy for us,” he said.
Red Cross intake workers gave fire victims a financial stipend to find housing until they could return to the building. By Saturday morning, all but 18 residents found alternative housing. The rest were put up at the Best Western Hotel in Hillside until Monday morning.
Calderone said most of the smoke and water damage is on the first and second floors. However, some residents of those floors with units further removed from the incident, will be able to return sooner. Units with water and smoke damage will not be habitable for a month or more, Calderone said.
“We’ve allowed residents to enter, escorted, to remove personal belongings,” Calderone said.
The building, called Linden House, has 60 government-subsidized assisted living units, with a largely senior population. When it was inspected by HUD in 2011, it received a Housing Quality Standards score of 79 out of 100, meaning living conditions of the property are “well below average,” according to the HUD report. Calderone said the building’s owner has insurance for the building. Fire adjusters were on scene Monday, he said.
“I feel terrible about the incident, and I think we’re fortunate we had only one minor injury,” he said. “Forest Park employees at the Community Center stepped up to the plate and spent all night making arrangements for the residents who were displaced.”
“This shows Forest Park employees have huge hearts, and that was exemplified throughout the weekend,” Calderone added.