Watch CBS News

Garbage Can Fires Spread To Garages, Utility Poles In Hegewisch; Police Say It Was Arson

CHICAGO (CBS)-- Dramatic flames raged overnight in the Hegewisch community, and police said three different fires in the area have now been ruled arson.

As CBS 2's Marissa Parra reported, the fires were out by late Sunday afternoon, but the problems that arose in their aftermath persisted.

As people started their Easter dinner, several were left without power and internet service – because the fires spread to utility poles and scorched the electric lines and cables running through them.

Hours earlier, neighbors had watched as the bright amber light of flames greeted them on Easter morning instead of the festive pastels they might have been expecting. Neighbors reported loud bangs, like either gunshots or fireworks, before watching the alleys catch on fire.

And it was more than just a bad visual and auditory experience.

"I felt how hot it was and there was smoke everywhere, and I couldn't breathe, and I was coughing and choking," said MarySue Simons.

Simons paused her Easter prep with family to show us what was left hours later.

"I mean, there was a whole fence here lined with garbage cans," she said. "They're all gone, and the fence, and of course, this garage."

In the alley between Buffalo and Burley avenues from 133rd Street south to 134th Street, flaming garbage cans melted like candles – taking several of Simons' late father's possessions with them.

Neighbors tried to save what they could.

"My husband, he came running out. He grabbed the burning garbage can -- which we have, like, normally four -- to try not to let this get set on fire," Zabel said as she stood in front of a charred husk of a garage. "But by then, it was too late, and he burned his hand."

But she said the damage would have been worse had her husband not taken that action.

"If it wasn't for his quick action, this house would be gone," said witness and victim Torence Ake.

At the same time, the same horror was transpiring in the alley between Brandon and Baltimore avenues at the same latitude just two and a half blocks away.

"The same scene," said Tom Cunningham. "Garbage cans and garages engulfed in flame – catching electric poles on fire."

"That's where the electricity went out and the internet went out," Simons said.

For residents, this is like déjà vu.

"This is the second time they've done this s**t," said Edwin Hernandez as he narrated a video he took of a fire.

In July 2018, CBS 2 covered the story of a mysterious serial arsonist in the exact same area of Hegewisch. Those fires left garbage cans melted like wax and siding peeling off homes.

In the three years hence, no one has been charged – and people had been worried it would happen again.

Now it has.

"This is not a joke," Zabel said. "You're messing with people's lives; with their property; with their money."

As Hegewisch residents picked up the pieces from fires that burned cars to a crisp, destroyed memories, and robbed all of them of peace, they are focused on the silver lining.

One of the neighbors, Ake, is a freemason who had documents dating back to around the time of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Somehow, the papers survived last night's fire.

"I'm so pleased, and about 40,000 masons are going to be very pleased to find that the records of Republic Lodge survived the conflagration," Ake said.

Meanwhile, neighbors are also hoping this time, it's the last time.

"I'm scared. People could have died," Zabel said. "I'm just glad that everyone is OK and, you know, no one got hurt."

As for what happened, police, again, ruled that the fires were set intentionally. But as of late Sunday afternoon, they had no leads on how the fires were ignited or who did it.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.