Chicago firefighters battle deadly, multi-alarm blaze in South Side high-rise

One person was killed, and several others were injured after a four-alarm fire broke out in a high-rise apartment on Chicago's South Side Wednesday morning. 

The Chicago Fire Department responded to an apartment building in Kenwood located at 4850 Lake Park Avenue just after 10 a.m. for a fire in the upper floors. 

The fire began on the 15th floor and quickly made its way upward. Officials say the fire affected 10 floors and residents near the top of the building were evacuated, those with special needs were prioritized.

"The fire went up vertically all the way to floor 24. Chicago Firefighters did an outstanding job," Fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt said.

A resident on the 16th floor smelled smoke and called 911.

A woman in her 80s was found dead in a unit on the 15th floor, officials said in a news conference. Seven other people were injured, including a 70-year-old woman taken in critical condition to a hospital, according to fire officials.

"I will tell you when I first walked up, I was aghast and my heart sunk," Ald. Sophia King (4th) said. "But after talking to leadership, first responders, they have the situation under control," 

One firefighter was taken to an area hospital for smoke inhalation. 

CFD Director Larry Langford says the cause is under investigation and their main concern was stopping the fire from spreading. 

The fire was classified as a 4-11 which is rare for Chicago, Langford said. 

At one point elevators were down causing even more of a challenge for responders.

Officials said over 300 fire personnel responded to the scene with 85 pieces of equipment. 

Jauntanne Mayes rushed to the burning apartment, hoping she could help an elderly retired teacher she called her aunt because they were so close.

"I knew that she could not get down the stairs by herself, and unfortunately they wouldn’t let me up to go and check on her," Mayes told reporters.

"Nobody had been able to reach her, and then I was just informed that she was a person who passed away," Mayes said. "Just a really sweet, sweet person, really generous, she will be missed by a lot of people."

Authorities could not immediately confirm the name of the person who died, but Mayes says her ‘aunt’ lived on the 15th floor where the deceased person was found. 

Adetunji Oyedele, 59, said he woke up to the sound of a fire alarm and immediately searched his apartment for flames. It was when he opened a window in his apartment that he noticed large clouds of smoke escaping from elsewhere in the building.

"It was a lot of smoke and I’m like, what is going on," said Oyedele. "I just quickly threw on this jacket ‘cause I didn’t even know what to take."

Oyedele said emergency responders were quick to respond to the fire. But a resident on the other side of the building disagreed.

"No one knocked on the doors, no one said anything, no one knew," said Stephanie Lassiter, 57. "I texted my daughter who also lives in the building and said, ‘I think there’s a fire in the building’ and she said she didn’t think so."

Lassiter said she heard a faint siren coming from the hallway and that it took awhile for residents to be told they needed to leave the building. "I had to knock on my neighbors doors to tell them to leave because no one knew. It was terrible," she said.

The building, Harper Square Cooperative, has failed seven inspections since Oct. 27, 2021, according to city records.

"The intercom system they’re using is very low. You couldn’t hear it inside your unit," one resident told reporters.

Many residents told FOX 32 news they never heard an alarm sound during the fire. 

There are 298 units in the building, and of those, only 267 were occupied. At least 130 residents are now temporarily displaced.

The Red Cross, Salvation Army and resources from the City of Chicago were on hand all day Wednesday helping people locate temporary housing. 

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.