Fire displaces 6 Evanston families

Claire Bushey

Six families were displaced Thursday by an extra-alarm fire that caused $125,000 worth of damage, said Division Chief Alan Berkowsky of the Evanston fire department.

There were no injuries, Berkowsky said, a fact he attributed to timing, since the incident occurred early in the evening when no one was asleep.

The fire started at about 5 p.m. on the third floor of an apartment building at 121 Callan Ave., Berkowsky said. By the time firefighters arrived, 11 adults and 21 children had evacuated the building’s six apartments.

A woman, her daughter and the woman’s 21-year-old cousin were at home in the apartment when the fire started, Berkowsky said. The fire began in a back bedroom, most likely when a candle accidentally fell over, Berkowsky said.

The candle ignited a mattress, Berkowsky said. The cousin, who was watching television in the main room, smelled the smoke and went to investigate. When he arrived at the door to the bedroom, he saw orange light coming from underneath the door, Berkowsky said. The man opened the door and saw the room already had been engulfed in flames.

When about 20 firefighters arrived at the scene shortly after 5 p.m., flames and heavy smoke were coming out the back of the building, Berkowsky said. The fire was beginning to threaten the roof, and the high wind made it difficult to fight.

The fire took about 45 minutes to extinguish, Berkowsky said.

As well as sustaining fire and smoke damage, the apartment was damaged by the water firefighters used to put it out, Berkowsky said. Because the fire was on the third floor, the second and first floors also sustained water damage when water seeped through from the floors above.

The six families who were displaced were taken a half-block away to the Evanston Police Department outpost at 633 Howard St., Berkowsky said. As of 10 p.m. Monday, EPD’s victim services department and the American Red Cross still were searching to find temporary shelter for the families.

Neighbors donated blankets and similar items to help the families, said Shari Nivasch of victim services.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, 12,540 fires nationwide were caused by candles in 1998. Almost half of those instances occurred in bedrooms, and in 13 percent of such incidents, mattresses or bedding were the first to ignite.