Elderly woman dead in Streeterville fire

December 11, 2009 4:40:00 AM PST
Flames sent glass and debris scattering below as firefighters braved single-digit temperatures to rescue residents from a burning downtown high-rise building. One resident did not make it out alive. The victim, an 84-year-old victim was found inside her apartment. It took nearly 300 firefighters more than 2 hours to bring the blaze under control. The fire started shortly before 1 a.m. Thursday morning at 260 E. Chestnut.

In all, 11 were injured, including five firefighters. All have been treated and released except for one resident who was transported in critical condition to Illinois Masonic Medical Center.

Bright orange flames shot out of two windows from the west side of this Streeterville high-rise. It didn't take long before the fire spread to units on the south side of this 44-story condo building and then jumped to the floor above.

The fire started in Beata Bihl's 36th floor apartment. The 84-year-old resident was killed as she tried to get out.

"She was found in the front of the apartment toward the door probably trying to make an escape, which still wouldn't have been -- we had smoke in the hallways already, so she probably wouldn't have had a good chance," said Commissioner John Brooks, Chicago Fire Dept. "Anytime we lose anybody in the fire, even though the fire was blowing out of the window when we got here, we just take that as, we feel terrible about it."

New high-rise response rules put in place five years ago mandates more manpower and equipment. Thursday morning's fire took 300 firefighters and a third of the city's firefighting equipment to control the blaze and evacuate dozens of residents.

"We stayed, because this the time it got so smoky we couldn't see each other in the apartment," said Mike Jaron, resident.

Mike Jaron and his wife Barbara were taken to the hospital. By noon, they were treated and released. They believe, had left their condo immediately, they may have avoided a trip to the hospital.

"I think we should have left when we felt like it. But who knows?" said Mike Jaron.

In a high-rise fires, the fire department says, the safest action to take is stay in your unit until the fire department tells you to evacuate. Some residents followed the rules and others did not.

"I decided to stay in. From past experience, that's what you do, and I went back to sleep," said Mary Kania, building resident.

"They had an announcement throughout the building stating to stay inside the apartment, that the fire would be under containment and not to leave. But I left anyway," said Karen McNeil, building resident.

The building is managed by the Sudler Property Management. They released a statement Thursday afternoon: "During this incident, Sudler's management team quickly implemented evacuation and emergency plans that assured the safety of the residents and fully cooperated with emergency crews."

There was another fire in the building six years ago. After that fire residents say the building did put in some safety features, which included a public announcement system.

Mayor Daley expressed his sympathy for the victim of the high-rise fire.

"I would like to extend our condolences to a person who was killed in a fire last night. Again, we as people are very cautious about smoking heaters, being very cautious. Make sure that we as family members check on all your parents or grandparents who are living alone. Making sure they are fully protected," the mayor said.

It is still not known whether smoking or heaters had any role in the fire. The cause is under investigation.

Mayor Daley also praised police and firefighters for getting other residents out of the building safely.


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