Oak Park fire victims cope with aftermath
The gutted brick bungalow at 835 N. Lombard stands coated with ice Thursday after an intense fire Wednesday afternoon that may have started in the basement. | Bill Dwyer~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 24, 2013 5:10PM
OAK PARK — Village officials on Thursday afternoon were assessing a home in the 800 block of North Lombard Avenue that had been gutted by fire the day before.
Village spokesman Dave Powers said building department officials were on site at 835 N. Lombard Ave. Fire Department Battalion Chief Ron Kobyleski said the village has “relinquished” the building back to its owner and her insurance company.
“It’s up to the insurance company to conduct an investigation,” Kobyleski said, calling the building a total loss.
“The first floor and second floor are totally destroyed. The fire basically consumed itself.”
Neighbors immediately to the south, at 833 N. Lombard Ave., were able to return to their home Thursday to assess the damage.
The fire had been reported Wednesday afternoon by David and Jennifer Roberts, who live across the street. They happened to look out their front window and see the smoke.
“It looked like steam coming out of a furnace, but it kept getting darker,” Jennifer Roberts said later Wednesday.
There were no reports of any injuries.
“I ran across the street to see if anyone was home,” David Roberts said. He then raced up to the porch next door at 833 N. Lombard Ave. and alerted the 96-year-old woman who was home. She and her beagle were helped from the house and brought across the street to the Roberts.
The houses on that stretch of Lombard are close together, perhaps no more than three or four feet apart in some places.
“They had to break into the house on the north side, because no one was home,” David Roberts said.
He said an older woman lives in the home where the fire started, but he’s never met her. “Her husband died in October,” he said.
Dispatch records show a 911 call at 3:52 p.m., and fire fighters arrived within seven minutes. Thirty minutes later a box alarm was announced, calling in help from surrounding fire departments.
At least seven municipalities responded, and dozens of firefighters were still pouring water on the blaze more than an hour later, even as the sub-freezing temperatures continued to drop.
By 5:45 p.m., firefighters appeared to have the fire under control but the blaze was not extinguished. A single hose was still spraying water on the front of the structure at 6:45 p.m.
Firefighters were pouring water on the fire with a least four hoses and a ladder truck.
Brett Balmer was visiting her sister, who lives nearby, when the fire started.
“We just saw smoke and they started breaking out windows,” Balmer said.
She and other bystanders said the smoke was coming out of “everywhere” at the house, a brick bungalow with an expanded second floor.
“It was really rolling,” said Paige Bartley, who lives on that block.
A police officer ordered bystanders to stay back from the cloud of thick black smoke.
“It’s a brick house. It’s like a kiln,” the officer said.
At least 10 major pieces of equipment filled the street, with several other smaller vehicles parked nearby. For awhile, Division Street at the north end of that block of Lombard also was closed, meaning rush-hour traffic had to be diverted off the normally busy thoroughfare.
Firefighters were still on the scene about 11 p.m. Wednesday, though the fire appeared to be out at that point. The street, however, remained closed at both ends of the block.