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8 hospitalized, baby in critical condition, after South Side Chicago high-rise fire

Residents frantic as fire sends smoke charging through South Shore Chicago building
Residents frantic as fire sends smoke charging through South Shore Chicago building 02:30

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Eight people were rushed to area hospitals – including a baby who was in critical condition – from a high-rise fire in the South Shore neighborhood.

Firefighters were called just before 4 p.m. for the fire in a 1920s-era high-rise at 7144 S. Jeffery Blvd. The fire started in a kitchen in a unit on the second floor of the 14-story building, Chicago Fire Department First District Chief Jim McDonough said at a news conference.

The Fire Department called a 2-11 alarm and an Emergency Medical Services Plan 2 for extra equipment and manpower. A 2-11 alarm sends 40 pieces of equipment and about 155 firefighters, while an EMS Plan 2 sends 10 to 12 ambulances.

Seven people were taken to area hospitals, and one of them – a baby – was in critical condition, McDonough said. One additional person later asked to go to the hospital.

Firefighters also performed ladder rescues outside as people hung out of windows.

7 hospitalized after fire breaks out in South Shore Chicago high-rise 02:54

On the highest floors – the 12th through the 14th – rescues had to be conducted inside. McDonough said that the elevators in the building were out, so firefighters had to go up the stairs and rescue people.

Some people on those floors had been about to jump, McDonough said. One person did jump from the fourth floor but could walk afterward.

Most of the fire was on the second floor, but the fire did get into the stairwell, and there was a great deal of heat from the second floor up to the fifth floor, McDonough said. There was heavy smoke from the second floor and up.

The Office of Fire Investigation determined the fire was caused by unattended cooking in a second-floor unit.

Chicago Fire Department update on South Shore high-rise fire 05:21

Residents panic as smoke rises

As the fire raged on the second floor, people were seen screaming for help as they found themselves trapped several floors up and hung out of the windows. The desperation on their faces was palpable as smoke poured out of the building.

One woman was seen waving clothing out a window, doing whatever she could to get the attention of firefighters. A video also showed someone dropping from the second floor down to the ground. 

The fire alarm for the building blared as the panic took over.

"I told mama, like, 'We've got to get out of here, we've got to get out of here,' " said Arnesha Amison, who lives on the sixth floor.

Amison was among the many inside when the fire on the second floor sent thick smoke pouring on the floors above.

She said everyone was trying to rush to the fire escapes.

"Everyone was trying to rush down, but we couldn't go down – because the fire the Fire Department told us to wait, don't come down," said Amison.

But as the smoke filled the hallways and some apartments, anxiety built. Some people took it upon themselves to jump out of lower-floor units, while others rushed down the darkened stairway.

"Through the grace of God, I put my shirt over my face and ran down those stairs with me and my wife," said Dedrick Washington, who lives on the 12th floor.

But Amison found herself stuck on the sixth floor.

"We had to just sit right here and then wait for them to tell us to come down," she said.

This went against natural intuition.

"That's not your instinct. You're trying to get away from the fire. You're trying to, you know, get out of the building. So it's like, what do you mean, like stay still?" Amison said. "But they had to get it open down there for us to get the fire out."

McDonough explained the risks involved with trying to escape in an unsafe way.

"A fire like this - you don't want to be in the stairwells. We'll come and get you," he said. "Once you open that door up, you're going to take a lot of smoke - and possibly some heat and fire."

Once outside, Amison saw the efforts of firefighters getting to those trapped.

"Had the ladder up to the window, and then they were pulling the kids out," she said. "I saw two kids coming out."

Images also show a Chicago firefighter cradling a child. The kid was scared but safe – and everyone was thankful.

"They went right to business. It was more firefighters than the police. So yeah, that's a blessing," Amison said. "Big props to CFD for sure."

Three children and five adults ended up in hospitals. The baby who was most seriously injured was taken to the University of Chicago's Comer Children's Hospital.

As of Thursday, fire officials said all patients have either been released or have non-life-threatening injuries. 

Residents displaced after high-rise fire in South Shore 01:11
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