Officials: 7 dead in Illinois apartment fire

February 15, 2010 4:29:03 AM PST
An early morning fire that ripped through a suburban Chicago apartment building on Sunday left seven people dead, including a newborn baby, a 3-year-old and four teenagers. The death toll rose from four to seven Sunday as investigators searched through the charred remains of the three-story building in Cicero for victims and residents waited anxiously to hear word of their loved ones and neighbors.

"To happen on a day when families are usually coming together for love and life -- Valentine's Day -- it makes it even more tragic," said town spokesman Ray Hanania. "It impacted everybody, including the firemen."

He said initial reports indicated the victims may have been related.

The blaze started around 6:30 a.m. and was extinguished in about an hour, Hanania said.

It was unclear how many people had lived in the building, making it difficult to account for residents. Hanania estimated the number of residents was anywhere from 23 to 40 people. The building had two and three bedroom apartments.

The fire appeared to have started in the building's attic, Hanania said, adding that the victims may have lived in the attic and on the second floor.

Authorities did not immediately release the victims' identities, but said a 20-year-old male, a 19-year-old female, an 18-year-old female and a set of 16-year-old twins -- a brother and sister -- were among the victims.

The genders of the remaining two victims -- a 3-day-old and 3-year-old -- were not immediately known.

The Cook County medical examiner said autopsies were scheduled for Monday morning.

Three fire fighters suffered non life-threatening injuries, Hanania said.

Nearly two dozen other residents were taken to hotels in the Cicero area, which is about 10 miles southwest of Chicago.

Two other buildings were damaged, including an adjacent house, Hanania said.

Resident Lorraine Santana told The Chicago Tribune that she was sleeping when she awoke to screams. She escaped one of the damaged structures with her three children and a dog.

"I'm relieved my kids are safe," Santana said.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation.

Hanania said city officials would investigate if any building occupancy codes were violated in the building where the fire broke out.

The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago provided food, clothing, winter coats, shoes and shelter, the group said in a news release.