6 Die in Chicago High-Rise When Fire Traps Workers
A fire in a high-rise county administration building Friday killed six people and trapped workers in smoke-filled stairways and hallways, officials said.
The dead were among 13 people overcome by smoke who were not found until firefighters conducted a floor-by-floor search of the 35-story building in the downtown Loop district after the fire was brought under control. Some of those trapped had called 911 on their cellular phones.
Fire Commissioner James Joyce said it was not unusual to find more people in the later stages of a fire in a building that held as many as 2,500 people during business hours.
“Searching for all those people, at the same time fighting the fire, is more complicated than it looks from the outside,” Joyce said.
Joyce said the people who died appeared to have been in one stairwell around the 22nd floor, 10 stories above the source of the fire.
He said a comprehensive search of the building was completed about five hours after the fire was reported about 5 p.m. CDT. He said he did not know how the fire started. The building has an alarm system but no sprinklers.
Authorities said 10 people were being treated at hospitals, and some were in serious or critical condition.
Flames and dense gray clouds of smoke billowed out of the windows shortly after the fire broke out. The smoke was so thick that it forced some people inside to retreat from the stairwells.
Joyce said most of the injured were found in the stairways and hallways from the 16th to the 22nd floors of the building. Workers on the 12th floor said they first saw smoke coming from a storage room.
Marienne Branch, who works in the public defender’s office on the 17th floor, made her way down a smoky stairwell with colleagues.
“I was scared for my life,” Branch said. “I still am.”
Firefighters escorted others down stairways and evacuated a day-care center without incident, fire officials said.
In addition to the public defender’s office, the building houses county prosecutors, the secretary of state’s office and other local and state government agencies.
Commuters in Chicago’s business district could see flames and smoke pouring from the 12th-story windows.
The rush-hour fire snarled traffic in the Loop and forced subway commuters to bypass underground tunnels.