Man found dead after 7 SW Side arsons; homicide investigation underway

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A man was found dead at the scene of one of seven fires that authorities said were intentionally set on Chicago's Southwest Side. His death was classified as a homicide.

Police said all of the arsons were set around 3 a.m. Friday. Around 100 firefighters from across the city helped extinguish those fires.

"They came and said, 'How bad is it?' I said, 'It's not that bad, because it's just three trash cans.' But then it just started to get worse. Once they were done over here, they noticed that the buildings over there were getting burned down like crazy," said Ana Robles, who called 911.

Paul Foertsch, a Chicago Fire Department district chief, said the fires started in alley garbage cans that eventually spread to garages and homes.

Firefighters who responded to a blaze in a garage in the 2100-block of West 21st Street in the city's Heart of Chicago neighborhood discovered an adult male inside, police said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Authorities have not released his identity. But people who knew the victim said he was a superintendent for the adjacent building.

"He would take care of the building and the tenants. I'd seen him a few times here. He was 51-55 years old," said Claudia Cueto, who knew the victim.
Crews responded to six other fires early Friday morning. A family of eight was displaced from their single-family home in the 2200-block of South Blue Island Avenue, but no one was hurt. Three garages, one in the 1700-block of West 21st Street, another in the 2100-block of South Wood and another in the 1800-block of West 21st Street.

Manuel Beltran woke his family and others as a fire that started in back of the building quickly spread. Beltran said he could see flames on his porch and he knew his neighbors in the garden apartment were home, so he broke through flames at the gangway door and kicked in the neighbor's window air conditioning unit.

"I went through the window and then I had to take the air conditioner, make a hole over there and call the people, 'Hey get out,'" Beltran said.

His son, Jeffrey, said he was lucky he got out alive.

"I was actually sleeping, and when my dad woke me up, I looked back in my room and my porch was already on fire. I was like, 'Holy...' I don't know, I was all shocked. I literally just grabbed my stuff. I left just in shorts. I left my house and that's it," Jeffrey Beltran said.

Iris and Sergio Gonzalez said they were asleep and did not smell any smoke in their unit. Fortunately their neighbor alerted them and they got out safely with their mother.

"It was thanks to Manuel that we got out," Iris said.

No one was hurt in any of the fires. In total, 39 people were left without a place to stay.

The Chicago Police Bomb and Arson Unit is investigating.
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