CHICAGO (CBS) — Firefighters in west suburban Westmont had to call in reinforcements overnight, when winds began whipping up the flames at a large apartment building fire.
The extra-alarm blaze started around 1:45 a.m. at a 16-unit apartment building near 67th and Park.
Strong winds overnight made extinguishing the fire even more challenging. By 2:30 a.m., it was burning out of control. It got so bad, firefighters from 30 surrounding communities were called in to help.
“The winds this morning did not help us at all. The winds fueled this fire, and spread the fire across the roof area. We had to go defensive for a little bit just to get that fire knocked down, so we could get companies back into the building,” Westmont Fire Chief Dave Weiss said.
Malik Griffin was likely the first to sound the alarm, which he did at 1:45 a.m., after first smelling smoke.
“I went to the patio. I went outside, opened the door. I saw the light just flaming up, and that’s what made me catch everybody, get everybody out the house, pull the fire alarm,” Griffin said.
Griffin said he normally would have been asleep when the fire started.
“Something told me to stay up,” he said.
Witnesses said it didn’t take long for the fire to spread throughout the entire building. By then, Griffin had awakened his family and their neighbors.
“My neighbor came out, said ‘Is everything okay?’ I said, ‘No, we need to get out the building. Get your kids. Let’s go.’ So we all exited the building,” neighbor Nicholett Jones said.
Two police officers who arrived on scene ran into the burning building, knocking on doors.
“Two police officers were the first on the scene, and helped evacuate about 8 to 10 families. They actually probably saved some of those people by waking them and getting them out of the building,” Weiss said.
At the peak of the fire, flames rose at least 20 feet out of the top of the three-story building.
Witnesses said a fixture attached to the side of the building might have sparked the blaze. Officials said it appears to have started on the second floor and spread quickly from there.
“The flames were so intense earlier, you could feel the heat from across the pond, and it got going pretty quick once it started to pick up,” witness Dave Schneider said.
No one was injured. One person who lives in the building pulled the fire alarm after seeing the fire, helping make sure everyone got out safe.
Fire officials said residents of all 16 units were left homeless. The fire burned the attic off all three sections of the building, and gutted most of the 16 apartments.
The cause of the fire was under investigation.