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Deadly high-rise fire in Kenwood caused by “careless use of smoking materials”


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    CHICAGO (WBBM) — Chicago Fire Department investigators have determined a deadly apartment building fire on Wednesday in Kenwood was caused by a careless smoker.

In a tweet Thursday afternoon, CFD officials said the Office of Fire Investigation concluded the cause of the fire at Harper Square Cooperative at 48th and Lake Park was “careless use of smoking materials that ignited combustibles in a bedroom,” and the fire was deemed accidental.

A smoke detector in the apartment where the fire started was not working at the time, according to the Fire Department.

One person was killed, and nine others were injured, including a firefighter, in an extra-alarm fire that spread to 10 floors of the 25-story apartment building on Wednesday afternoon.

Caution tape still surrounded part of the high-rise, and a building restoration team was on site Thursday morning, as many families waited to learn when they can go back to their homes.

Debris was seen falling to the ground as firefighters rushed into the building to put out the flames. At the same time, residents inside the building spotted flames climbing past their windows.

The fire started shortly after 10 a.m. on the 15th floor of the building, and gradually climbed up to the 24th floor.

Friends said a woman in her 80s, a retired school teacher, died in the fire. She lived on the 15th floor. Her name has not yet been released as authorities work to notify her family.

Her body was not found until after several other people already had been taken to the hospital.

“They found an elderly woman deceased from smoke inhalation on the 15th floor – and that’s the floor that my aunt stayed on – and I came back, because I wanted to check to see how she was doing, if she was okay, because I had been trying to call her phone and nobody had been able to reach her,” said Jauntanne Mayes.

An autopsy on Thursday determined the woman died of thermal and inhalation injuries, and her death was ruled an accident.

Chicago Fire Department officials said the building has 298 units, 267 of which were occupied at the time of the fire. A total of 133 units impacted by the fire, and more than 100 families were displaced.

A woman who lives in the building said it’s divided into two parts; the east side and the west side. The west side is still intact so those who live there weren’t affected by this fire, but those on the east side still can’t get back to their homes, and it’s not clear when they’ll be allowed back in.

The building has a history of failed inspections, code violations, and another fire back in 2021.

Just last month, the building failed a city inspection, in which managers were ordered to test the fire alarm and evacuation system. It was the seventh failed inspection.

The last time the building passed an inspection was more than two years ago, in September 2020.

In February 2021, another fire at the building left two residents and a firefighter injured.

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