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By Nona Tepper
A fire occurred about 1:30 p.m. in a three-story apartment building at 1141 Hannah Ave. on Jan. 10.
River Forest Fire Chief Kurt Bohlmann said he had "no idea" what caused the fire and that investigators were still working to identify its cause and the extent of damage. He said 11 fire departments showed up to extinguish the flames. Forest Park officials were too busy to comment on the matter.
All of the approximately 20 tenants of the 12-unit building were evacuated safely, and many were transported to the Howard Mohr Community Center to keep warm. Emergency personnel provided those who remained outside the building with hot chocolate, cookies, jackets and more.
Building manager Pali Melani said he was outside the building when he saw smoke coming from the building's first floor. He went inside and saw a "small fire" in the first-floor stairwell. Melani rushed up from the basement, used a fire extinguisher to douse the flames and "all of a sudden it caught fire again," he said.
Melani said he had no idea what caused the fire. Building owner John Serritella likewise said he had no idea what caused the fire.
"As quick as we can safely get everyone back in, we will," Serritella said.
The Red Cross arrived about 2 p.m. to connect tenants with temporary housing.
Tenant Parmander Kumar said he was watching TV with his wife and son in their third-floor unit when he saw smoke and "just left" through the downstairs fire exit at about 1:45 p.m.
Kumar, an Indian immigrant, said he didn't know what caused the fire but felt worried about recovering "my TV, passport, green card, my family's green card" from inside.
Tenant Jessica Ellison said she was asleep when she heard firefighters banging on her second-floor apartment door. She said she inhaled "a ton" of smoke and that firefighters wanted to transport her to the hospital but, "I don't have time for that right now," she said. Ellison was evacuated safely in her pajamas.
"I'm traumatized," Ellison said. "I was asleep, to wake up to something like that was terrible. I'm still in shock."