Kathy Jones was lying on a couch in a West Chicago apartment during a visit with relatives early Monday when she “smelled something bad.”
Jones, of Ashtabula, Ohio, said she then saw the apartment’s blinds on fire, prompting her to wake up her three nieces and a nephew and get them out of the building safely.
The fire in the three-story, 24-unit Aspen Ridge Apartments caused extensive damage and left about 100 residents displaced, officials said. The six-alarm blaze took about 150 firefighters three hours to bring under control.
At least five people had to be rescued from second- and third-floor balconies. No residents were reported injured, but one firefighter was treated and released from a local hospital after spraining his back, officials said.
A spokesman for the WestChicago Fire Department said late Monday afternoon that the DuPage County Fire Investigation Task Force was trying to determine the cause of the fire.
The fire at the complex in the 500 block Carriage Drive broke out around 2:20 a.m., said Deputy Chief Robert Hodge.
Jones said she did not hear smoke detectors go off, and Hodge said it was possible smoke detectors didn’t sound because there wasn’t much smoke in the interior of the building.
About 30 fire departments responded to the blaze. At least 35 emergency vehicles, including 15 ambulances, were at the scene, West Chicago fire Lt. Lee Westrom said.
Because of the blaze’s heat and the high air temperature and humidity, fire commanders worked quickly to replace overheated firefighters.
While the fire was being fought, a mayday for possibly downed firefighters was sounded, but all firefighters were soon accounted for, Westrom said. According to fire radio communications, the firefighters had escaped through the rear of the building.
About 40 residents displaced by the fire were being assisted by the American Red Cross at West Chicago Community High School, about a mile north of the fire.
The Red Cross had set up cots, and residents were offered lunch by the West Chicago Park District.
Small children were given new large stuffed animals, and their parents were given money to help them buy clothing to supplement what they had on their backs
Andrew Zuick is a WGN-TV assignment editor. William Lee is a Tribune reporter. Tribune reporter Art Barnum contributed.