‘I Found Out from Instagram’: Residents Said Alarm Did Not Alert Them of Chicago Fire That Killed 80-Year-Old Woman, Injured 9

A massive fire broke out in a large apartment complex in Chicago, resulting in the death of one and the hospitalization of nine others, according to reports.

Officials say they told some residents to shelter in place during the blaze, but some say their loved ones never knew there was a fire because no alarms or alerts went off in the building.

Reports also note the building was not up to code, failing all seven of its last inspections.

Chicago Kills 1, Hospitalizes 8
The Chicago Fire Department was called to the Harper Square Cooperative apartments in Kenwood neighborhood on Jan. 25, 2022. (Photos: Twitter video screenshot/Intel Point Alert)

Recent Spelman graduate and renter at Harper Square Amaris Shani took to social media to thank people for reaching out to her to check on her family. She said while everyone was safe, she had issues with the building management’s failure to alert them about the fire.

“We’re all evacuated,” she wrote in her Instagram Story. “I had to leave work and travel from downtown, run up 9 flights of stairs, and get my family out the apartment because @harpersquare failed to alert residents that a fire was occurring.”

Amaris Shani added, “No alarms, no sprinklers, nothing. And by this point, the fire had traveled up 10 stories up.”

She said she found out about the fire on Instagram.

Around 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 25, the Chicago Fire Department was called to the Harper Square Cooperative apartments in Kenwood to suppress a nine-floor-spreading fire that was taking over the 24-floor building, according to Block Club Chicago.

Two and half hours later the fire was put out and people were brought to safety, thanks to the efforts of 300 fire and EMT workers.

Fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt explained she believed her team did an “outstanding job” considering the natural elements were fighting against them and causing the fire to move upward in the building.

She said, “What we encountered here was because the fire went from the 15th all the way to the 14th floor was the fact that the wind was pushing; the fire went up vertically, and it leapt from floor to floor to floor all the way up to 24, where firefighters gained control of it.”

“They did an outstanding job,” Nance-Holt continued, also noting that the elevators had been out and the firefighters were confined to using the stairs in their efforts to extinguish the fire and transport equipment from floor to floor.

Despite their valiant efforts, by the time they reached the 15th floor, where the fire started, one person had already succumbed to the hazards of the fire, Ald. Sophia King (4th) reported. King said the fire mostly started in the apartment where the deceased, who was in her 80s, lived.

“I grew up here in the building and I always viewed her as an aunt,” the victim’s friend Jauntanne Mayes said. “I came back to check on to see how she was doing [or] if she was ok because I had been trying to call and call and nobody had been able to reach her.”

Seven other southside co-op residents were taken to the hospital and have been reported to be in fair to good condition said Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.

Thirty-three residents did not accept medical treatment.

Controversy arose as some residents were told not to leave their apartments during the fire and others were not told at all. Officials say the reason residents were told not to leave, which is a standard they say, to keep people safe. People took objection because, while it is not a senior-living facility, it has a large population of older residents.

“I have a godmother who lives in the building so I wanted to make sure she was OK, as well as the other residents in this building,” said Prentice Butler, King’s chief of staff and a candidate to replace her as 4th Ward alderperson.

According to a report by ABC News, Harper Square has failed the last seven inspections by the Department of Buildings, including one on Dec. 1. The building did not pass testing for the fire alarm and evacuation system.

Cellphone video of the fire has hit social media showing the flames shooting out of several floors. After it was contained and quelled, rubble, blown-out windows, and the burnt-out exterior showed the devastation and homes of tenants that are now displaced.

Deputy Commissioner Mark Furman stated the agency was proactive with its strategy to deal with the fire.

“We got a list of people who were maybe physically challenged. We got to those units first. We prioritized those guys and then made announcements as we evaluated conditions,” Furman said according to ABC 7.

He also explained why some were told not to move out of place, “High-rise building is fire resistance construction — is built with fire separations built in. The doors are fire-rated doors to the apartment units. The stairways are enclosed … the hallways. It’s set up so you can remain in your unit and still be safe.”

Still, neighbors were proactive and looked out for each other. Leanne Faines said someone knocked on her door to tell her and her husband about the active fire and they with 13 others left the premises.

“We ran down the stairs — we are on the eighth floor — they told us it was 15 and up so we didn’t know what to do. We ran down to the garage and got our car,” Faine said.

Another tenant, Phyllis Powell, who was at work, said her husband and his caretaker got stuck on the seventh floor, after leaving the unit.

“We tried to leave and the fireman said we had to stay in place because we were three floors down from our place. We just had to stay. Couldn’t go down or couldn’t go up,” he said.

Harper Square is a relatively old building. Built in 1970, the structure has been around for a little over 50 years and has 298 units. Two hundred sixty-seven of the apartments were being rented at the time of the fire.

An investigation of the blaze is still underway.

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