Rogers Park resident Jason Saini said he was enjoying the night on his deck when he saw what looked like “a fast-moving cloud” coming over the trees. His wife corrected him, pointing out some fire coming out from below. What he was seeing was smoke from a large building fire at 6852 N. Wayne Ave., just a block from his home.
His wife immediately called 911 and they went out to the street to see if they could help. When they got there, people were still evacuating the four-story apartment building.
“The shock kind of took over and got people out quickly and with the size and scope of it, people were kind of stunned,” Saini said. “That made it so that people were very focused and deliberate about getting out and getting safe.”
The first call about the fire came in at about 9:36 p.m. Aug. 25, according to Larry Merritt, a spokesperson for the Chicago Fire Department (CFD). No people died as a result of the fire, but a man in his 70s was transported to Presence Saint Francis Hospital in Evanston with smoke inhalation and burns in critical condition, Marriott said. CFD told The Phoenix they have no updates on the man’s condition Sept. 1.
It’s unclear what started the fire, but CFD is investigating, Merritt said.
One of the building’s residents, Mella Franco, said her lights started flickering on and off and then her neighbors began ringing her doorbell to get her out of the building. When she went to look out her window, she saw all of her neighbors and police officers and firefighters and started to realize something was wrong.
What she didn’t know was that her building was the one on fire. After she saw others running out of her building, she picked up her dog and cat and sprinted out the door.
“The Chicago fire department was on top of it,” Franco said. “They had the fire under control by about 10:00 p.m., but I didn’t get the all-clear to go back into my [unit] until about 12:30 or 1 a.m.”
The fire was concentrated in the back of the building, Saini said. Franco said this meant her apartment wasn’t touched by the fire. But some of her neighbors’ units were completely destroyed, according to another resident of the building’s Facebook post about the fire.
Jessica Neill, who lives a block away from where the fire occurred, said she walked over to see if she could help. When she got there, she said she saw many others with the same idea lining the street.
“Seeing the look on everybody’s faces, it was heartbreaking,” Niell, 30, said. “ I didn’t want to disrupt or distract anyone because they’re all dealing with super personal issues so I just tried to stand out of the way and listen to see if I could hear people asking for specific things.”
Neill overheard one woman needed tampons, so she ran home to grab her a box. Her husband brought a box of masks from their house for people who didn’t have them, while others who’d gathered handed out water and snacks or offered up their bathrooms and spare bedrooms for people displaced by the fire. Someone at the scene even ordered a pizza for the group.
“The reason we were out there was that we wanted to help our neighbors because we would love it if our neighbors did the same thing if something happened to us,” Neill said. “I think that pay- it- forward mentality is very important in times of crisis.”
Franco said all of her neighbors seemed more than happy to help and stayed with everyone affected by the fire even after everyone was evacuated from the building.
“I am so thankful for all the small gestures from people in my neighborhood and for the community of people that came through,” Franco said.
North-Side Community Resources (NCR) — an organization that provides money and other resources to people who have been impacted by fires, medical emergencies or other life-changing events — partnered with 49th Ward’s Rogers Park Community Response Team (RPCRT) to create a fund to help those impacted by the fire.
RPCRT didn’t respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.
A previous version of this story misspelled CFD spokesperson Larry Merritt’s name and Rogers Park resident Jason Saini’s name. We regret the errors and the story has been corrected.