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Electrical Fire Kills 10 Living in Two-Bedroom Apartment

December 9, 1991

CHICAGO (AP) _ A fast-moving fire turned a crowded apartment into a deadly inferno Monday, trapping and killing 10 people - half of them children - while neighbors could hear their screams, authorities said.

Firefighters tried unsuccessfully to coax a screaming woman covered with flames into jumping from a window of the third-floor apartment. She survived but in critical condition, officials said.

Police listed overuse of extension cords in a second-floor apartment as the preliminary cause. The blaze broke out shortly before 3 a.m. and quickly spread from that apartment up a stairwell to the third-floor front apartment occupied by the 11 victims, police said.

Occupants of the second-floor apartment and a second unit on the third floor of the six-unit building escaped.

Neighbors could hear the victims, whose names were not immediately released.

″One of the neighbors said they kept hearing screams. People saying ‘Open the door 3/8 Open the door 3/8’ They couldn’t find the door,″ said Rigo Montez, 27, who lives next door.

″I saw people were screaming from the windows asking for help, yelling ’help 3/8 help 3/8‴ said Bienvenido Perez, 38, who lives across the street.

He said one victim threw a cat out the window and he saw the firefighters trying to persuade the woman to jump.

The brick building is located in Humboldt Park, a largely low-income Hispanic neighborhood on the northwest side.

City Building Commissioner Dan Weil said investigators found ″a great deal″ of illegal and improper electrical wiring, including spliced and ungrounded wiring, in the building.

″This is a situation waiting for a fire, when you have improper connections and splicing and open wires,″ Weil said.

Fire Department spokesman Michael Cosgrove said a smoke alarm in the third floor stairwell was working but none was found inside the third-floor apartment.

″The stairs were crooked, the whole building was just a wreck,″ said Lorese Howery, girlfriend of one of the men who died. Choking back tears, she said he ″planned on moving out on the first of the year. He just didn’t make it.″

The 10 who died and the injured woman all lived in the two-bedroom apartment. They apparently included members of two families, and children ages 1 through 14, authorities said.

Several victims were found near the front window.

Police Sgt. Nick Gaudio said a screaming woman engulfed in flames was leaning out the front third-story window when firefighters and police arrived. He said the woman was burned over nearly 60 percent of her body.

Cosgrove said that woman, in her mid-20s, was the one hospitalized in critical condition.

One of the victims was a taxi driver with a wife and two children, said Rigoberto Montez, 78, who lives next door.

″He was a very, very good man,″ Montez said. ″Oh my God, I feel very sorry for these people.″

The building was damaged by another fire in 1986 but no violations were found when the renovated building was inspected in 1987, Weil said.

The building commissioner said three-story buildings are inspected only if requested or if a complaint is made.

Many of the victims were burned beyond recognition.

Two firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation.

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