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No injuries, but major damage in high-rise fire in South Shore

Residents left to find somewhere else to stay after South Shore high-rise fire
Residents left to find somewhere else to stay after South Shore high-rise fire 02:47

CHICAGO (CBS) – An extra-alarm fire broke out in a high-rise in the South Shore neighborhood Thursday morning, causing no injuries but severely damaging the building.

The 2-11 alarm fire started at 9:30 a.m. at the Lakefront Place Condo building at 6730 S. South Shore Dr., on the 10th floor of the 17-floor building, according to the Chicago Building Department.

Officials say about 150 firefighters responded to the scene. 

The fire was under control and was extinguished within a half-hour. But several units were seriously damaged.

"We were able to direct streamlines from the ground up to the 10th floor to extinguish the main body of fire from the outside, which gave us time to get up to the 10th floor, lead out headlines, and get water on the fire," said CFD Deputy Commissioner Marc Ferman. 

Firefighters extinguish fire in South Shore high-rise 03:45

A witness who was exiting a bus at the time said she smelled smoke before seeing the fire.

"I just smelled some smoke, so I'm like what is going on? And when we crossed the street, we just turned that way and it was just so much fire," said Denise Collier. 

CBS 2's Sabrina Franza reported there were no sprinklers inside the building as they are not required as long as it is approved by the Life Safety Evaluation.

Chopper 2's Kris Habermehl reported the apartment above the one where the fire started was empty, with nothing to ignite -- which helped contain the fire. 

Habermehl reported the building was constructed to be fire-resistant – composed of concrete boxes designed to ensure that a fire will stay put and won't spread. But the idea behind such a design can be thwarted if the flames come up outside the building – as happened in this case and in another high-profile Chicago high-rise fire this year.

The Fire Department used what is known as a deck gun – a high-capacity hose mounted on the fire engine. Habermehl reported a deck gun is usually effective up to the sixth or seventh floor of the building, but was useful all the way up to the 10th floor in this case.

No injuries were reported.

Views from Chopper 2 show the fire left external damage from where the fire started to the top of the building.

"The water damage is fairly serious - and in my bedroom," said building resident Vincent Rose.

Apartments were checked and firefighters conducted top-to-bottom searches.

Records show the building at failed an annual fire alarm inspection on Monday, May 1, just three days before the fire.

The Fire Department ordered management to provide and/or test the fire alarm and evacuation system, have a contractor change the alarm panel so it is in working order, and repair or replace a defective fire pump – the device that first responders normally would connect with in order to reach a fire multiple floors above ground.

"It's not surprising to me," Rose said. "It been problematic issues over the years for me and other residents in the building."

We also found violations for issues involving heating – in December of last year, and again in February.

Late Thursday, some big questions were emerging over the lack of smoke alarms going off.

South Shore High Rise Fire 01:58

"All of a sudden, I smelled something - and I said, "Well, I'm not cooking,' and then I smelled it got heavier very quickly," said Dr. Tanya Ratcliff

Residents said smoke was coming up into their vents - filling bathrooms. By Ratcliff's account, it was more than 10 minutes until the alarm warnings sounded.

"Nothing," Radcliff said. "The alarms didn't go off until I was all the way downstairs and the Fire Department made it up here."

Radcliff walked all the way down to the ground floor without hearing a peep from the alarm system – and says the only reason she knew to get out was that she noticed that smoke in the bathroom ceiling.  

"I had time to walk down from 14th floor to the lobby - and there was no alarm going off," Ratcliff said. "That's a long walk."

Rose also said he did not hear an alarm.

"If it were not for someone pounding on my door to say, 'Get out of here,' I would have never known," Rose said. "There was no fire alarm. There was no alert system."

Big questions about smoke alarms not going off in South Shore high-rise fire 04:37

Ratcliff has liived four floors above the space where the flames broke out for a long time. She recalls 10 years ago when a fatal fire broke out in the very same the building.

In January 2013, two men died in a fire in the building after rescuing an elderly woman and then returning to try to extinguish the flames.

Jameel Johnson, 36, and John Fasula, 50, worked for a cable company and were doing work in the building when the fire erupted on the seventh floor of the South Shore high-rise on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013.

The two heard a woman screaming, put her in the elevator and sent her down to the lobby. They then took fire extinguishers and tried to put out the fire.

They were found by fire crews and were in cardiac arrest, authorities said. The apparently died of smoke inhalation.

Since then, new fire alarm equipment has been installed.

"It looks like it's supposed to work, but something didn't happen," Ratcliff said. "In my bathroom, there was smoke just accumulating in the ceiling, and so I could see the smoke coming out of the vent. And that's when I said: 'No, this is serious. I've got to get out here.'"

The building is old enough that it is not required to have sprinklers as long as they have an approved Life Safety Evaluation approved and on file.

"No, there was no alarms that went off," said Alisha Roberts-Novak. "There was a young man who was a hero, because he went on every floor and knocked on doors to say that the 10th floor was shooting flames out the side of the building."

Roberts-Novak's cellphone video shows the first minutes when fire crews used ground-based hoses to fight the fire 10 floors up.

CBS 2 has reached out to property management company FirstService Residential by phone and email about why they failed to provide the fire alarm inspection report three days ago, and why the alarms didn't go off on Thursday. We have not heard back.

The building's condo association also did not return or calls or emails.

Questions and clean-up were both lingering late Thursday for a high-rise community rattled about what happened - and nervous about what's next.

"I don't know exactly what happened, but it was not functioning to the point where I was satisfied," Ratcliff said.

Some also what two major fires within a decade in the building could mean for their insurance rates.

Neighbors complain smoke alarms didn't sound for 10 minutes in high-rise fire 03:06

Residents said they had to evacuate the building until further notice. On Thursday night, some residents returned to the building after work – but were not allowed inside and needed to find somewhere else to spend the night.

"It's very frustrating," said building resident Janine Ingram. "I'm homeless tonight. I got to figure out where to stay, and I got to find some clothes to go to work in the morning."

"It's just a shock, you know," added resident Douglas Lowe. "You don't have anywhere to go; lay your head down."

While we were on the scene, representatives with the condo management company also declined to provide any answers about that failed inspection – or when residents will be allowed back in the building.

"I don't know," Lowe said, "maybe I will sleep in my car."    

CBS 2 spoke with the owner of the condo where the fire broke out. We are told they rent it out.

This is the third high-rise fire to happen in Chicago this year. 

Back in January, a fire in the Kenwood neighborhood left one person dead and nine others hurt. That fire, according to officials, was caused by "careless use of smoking materials."

Last month, CFD Lieutenant Jan Tchoryk died while responding to a high-rise fire in Gold Coast. 

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