1 killed in Northwest Side apartment fire

March 11, 2012 5:14:37 AM PDT
One man was killed, and his mother was injured in an apartment early Saturday on Chicago's Northwest Side.

Flames ignited inside a fifth-floor bedroom at the Ridgemoor Estates building in the 6400-block of West Belle Plaine. The building contains 44 condo units.

A Chicago Fire Department deputy fire chief described heavy smoke inside the building and a dramatic rescue from the top floor.

"There was a rescue from the fifth floor balcony. [We] raised the ladder up, put the lady on it and got her down. The second victim was carried down by the firefighters," Dep. Chief Pat Brennan said.

The victim has been identified by the medical examiner as Michael Betz, 49. He was pronounced dead at an area hospital at appoximately 3 a.m. Saturday. His mother, 70-year-old Esta Johnson, was transported to the hospital and was upgraded later Saturday morning from serious to stable condition.

Four other people were treated for smoke inhalation. Some other minor injuries were reported and treated at the scene.

Heartbroken and emotional, Earlene McInerney can't believe what happened in her sister Esta Johnson's fifth-floor condo.

McInerney rushed to the hospital to be by her sister's side. She got the news about her nephew there.

"They said, 'I'm sorry to tell you that Mike has expired.' I said, 'What?' and I started screaming," McInerney said. "I couldn't believe it. It was just, he is only going to be 50 years old in May. How could someone so young ... what happened?

Betz moved in with his mother when her husband fell ill and then passed. Betz then found out he had an advanced stage of lung cancer.

"I feel so sorry for his two little boys," McInerney said.

Roger Bodin, who lives across from Johnson's condo, woke up to the smoke alarms going off. He hurried to help his neighbors.

"I tried to wake them up but there was no answer, smoke started coming out," Bodin said.

All the residents are back inside the building, although one family was displaced because their unit suffered smoke damage.

McInerney was trying to figure out how to talk to her sister about her son and what she was going to say to friends and family.

"I have to call all these people that love Mike, that love my sister and tell them whats happened," McInerney said.

Chicago Fire Department officials say they are investigating the cause of the blaze.

Following the fire, firefighters took the opportunity to pass out smoke detectors to people in that Northwest Side neighborhood.

The firefighters are emphasizing the importance of maintaining smoke detectors.

And that means changing the batteries when you "spring ahead" Sunday morning.

"Later on today, we'll be changing our clocks, and we need to change the batteries in the smoke detectors, and that's huge," Acting Assistant Deputy Commissioner Mark Nielsen said.

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