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Chicago police open arson investigation after fire damages historic Swift Mansion on South Side

Swift Mansion fire started by person, CFD says
Swift Mansion fire started by person, CFD says 01:42

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Police are conducting an arson investigation after 10 people were displaced when a fire broke out at a historic mansion in the Grand Boulevard neighborhood on the South Side Sunday. 

The Chicago Fire Department worked quickly to rescue people inside and salvage the Swift Mansion at 45th and Michigan. At least 55 fire personnel were called here to the scene, after the fire started in the attic just before noon. It was put out a short time later, but sparked up again around 2:40 p.m., and the second time the fire started, it burned for more than 90 minutes before firefighters put it out.

On Monday morning, firefighters responded to the house for the third time as smoke reemerged from inside the house.   

The Chicago Fire Department also confirmed fire investigators determined the fire started in a rear stairwell of the building "the result of human action." The Fire Department's findings have been forwarded to the Chicago Police Department, which has said the fire has been classified as an arson. Area 1 detectives were investigating.

James Otis said was inside when the fire started. He said firefighters had to drag him out.

"I went up to fight the fire. I had six fire extinguishers. I was trying to fight it, because … I wasn't going down without a fight," he said. "This is our family home. I grew up in this house."

The Swift Mansion has had many occupants since it was built in 1892, once serving as headquarters for the Chicago Urban League.

Otis said his family acquired the property in the 1990s, turning it into the Inner City Youth and Adult Foundation that still runs out of the three-story mansion.

"It's just hurting us, because what's going on now is everybody is depending on us to find some place for them," he said.

Swift Mansion damaged in fire on Chicago's South Side 02:13

Otis said he's been living in the mansion with his two siblings, along with seven other residents.

"We removed three people that were inside the building. All people were pulled out safely. A lot of fire up in the attic, so there was extensive salvage and overall," Chicago Fire Department Deputy District Chief John Giordano said.

Otis said his family recently began renovating the space in hopes of turning it into a condo building. He said the fire appeared to start in an empty room they had recently remodeled.

"We had just remodeled that room," he said. "It was all up to code and everything, and all of a sudden, in the middle of nowhere, it just catches fire? It don't make sense."

The Swift Mansion and its owners are the subject of an ongoing lawsuit claiming the foundation is illegally evicting tenants.

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