Megan Irwin's first thought was to ignore the barking of her black and white pitbull Blu. But she changed her mind just in time to escape as her apartment filled with smoke.
"No fire alarm woke me up," Irwin said hours after an extra-alarm forced her and other residents out of the apartment building in the 700 block of East 82nd Street. "My dog woke me up. He's a puppy so he's always barking and whining. I was going to ignore him, but he was so aggressive with it."
Irwin ran to the front door, but found it so hot she couldn't bear to touch it. "I was trapped, there was no way out, so I just jumped out the window," she said as her voice cracked.
"There was a lady on the third floor, hanging from the window. I told her to jump, that she could make it. She jumped and this man in the alley broke her fall. There was a pregnant woman, holding on to a pole."
"It all happened so fast," Irwin said. "First there was smoke, then there was fire."
At least four people were injured, one critically, in the 3-11 alarm fire that broke out around 5 a.m. The fire apparently started in a stairwell, and flames were shooting from the upper windows and the roof when firefighters arrived, officials said. Several residents had to be rescued down ladders.
"They had people hanging out the windows," Fire Chief Michael Fox told reporters. "And they had one person who already jumped into the alley."
In all the rush and confusion, Irwin said she left Blu behind.
Her neighbors gathered around her across the street, comforting her, then broke out into cheers when they spotted a firefighter holding Blu
"That dog saved your life," one man said.
"That dog is her baby," said a woman.
Quincella Cooks, 25, was asleep on the first floor when she woke up smelling smoke. She opened her front door and was confronted with a wall of hot, dark smoke, she said. She grabbed her 1-year-old in her arms. "I ran to the back door and saw smoke," she said. "The only option I had was to jump from the window."
Cooks said she climbed to the ledge and was greeted by a firefighter who helped her, her young son Jarvail and her husband get out safely.
"By the time we got out, everybody was already outside," she said, standing barefoot. "It was very scary. We've never been through anything like this before."
Henrietta Ofili, 41, woke up to her smoke detector going off. At first she tried to ignore the loud screech, but when she smelled smoke she went to investigate.
"I opened my door, I saw the smoke everywhere," she said. "I grabbed my baby, I knocked on my neighbors' door and we got out."
Outside, Ofili said she saw some of her neighbors struggling to escape. Some were climbing through windows, others had to be pulled out by firefighters, she said.
"At first I started crying," she said as she held her 2-year old son Samuel on her lap. "But then I said, 'Thank God we are alive.' "
Both Irwin and Andrea Stoudemire, 28, said they did not have functioning smoke alarms in their units. Stoudemire learned of the fire from a neighbor who beat on her door. She grabbed her three children and escaped.
"I jumped from the second floor with two of my kids on my back," she said. "I said, 'I don't care how tight you have to hold me, just don't let go.' "
The heat from the blaze broke her front window Stoudemire said. And the fire started down the hallway near her second floor apartment.
"We just had to get out," she said.
One person was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn in serious-to-critical condition, fire officials said.
Two people were taken to nearby Jackson Park Hospital and Medical Center, one in fair-to-serious condition and the other in good condition. The fourth victim was taken to St. Bernard Hospital in good condition, officials said.
The fire was declared under control about 7 a.m.