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Officials Investigate String Of Arsons, Including Deadly Garage Fire

CHICAGO (CBS) -- One person was found dead and several others were left homeless after a string of West Side fires that authorities said were deliberately set.

Neighbors described terrifying efforts to escape the flames after one apartment building was destroyed by a blaze. Fire officials said a total of seven garages were set on fire in a one-mile radius in the Heart of Chicago neighborhood, starting around 3 a.m. Friday.

The largest fire was near Blue Island Avenue and Wood Street, where a fire started in a garage, and spread to two apartment buildings in front of it.

Officials said a total of 39 people were left homeless.

"It's tragic. It really is," Fire Department District Chief Paul Foertsch said.

A father who lives in one of the apartment buildings said he made sure all seven members of his family got out safe, then he went back inside to wake up his upstairs neighbors, and broke into the garden level apartment to save two kids and their parents.

"'Everybody get up! Everybody we have to get out! The house is on fire!' I've got to go for the people in the basement, because the people in the basement is sleeping, and it was locked. The whole doors, it was locked. I broke the doors and I went to the window and broke the A/C in the window, and I called everybody, 'Get up everybody, the house is on fire!'" Manuel Beltran said.

Just a few blocks away, a man was pronounced dead after he was found inside a burning garage in the 2100 block of West 21st Street. Sources said he appeared to die of smoke inhalation. It appeared the man might have been living in the garage. A charred mattress was visible among the wreckage.

Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said at least five other garages in the neighborhood also were set on fire. All appeared to be the result of arson.

The Police Bomb and Arson Unit was investigating, and detectives were reviewing surveillance camera footage from the area.


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