Elderly couple dies in house fire in Old Irving Park neighborhood

An elderly couple died Thursday night in a house fire in the Old Irving Park neighborhood on the Northwest Side.

Robert Szalacha, 85, and his wife Carol Szalacha, 78, were found inside the home and pronounced dead at the scene, according to authorities and the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

Their daughter, who was also inside, got out and refused medical attention, police and neighbors said.

The fire broke out about 9:20 p.m. on the first floor of the home in the 4200 block of North Kildare Avenue, and soon engulfed the building, according to Chicago Fire Department officials.

Deputy District Chief Brian McKermitt said crews “encountered heavy fire on the first floor” after receiving reports the couple was trapped. While inside, the blaze “started intensifying,” and the firefighters retreated outside.

Once the fire was brought under control, a search was conducted, and the bodies were discovered, McKermitt said. Fire department spokesman Larry Langford said Carol Szalacha was found on the first floor, and Robert Szalacha was found on the second.

An investigation found that Carol Szalacha was using supplemental oxygen, according to Langford, and officials believe it was ignited by a cigarette she was smoking. An autopsy conducted Friday showed she died of burn injuries and smoke and soot inhalation. The report also said “careless use of smoking materials” was a factor.

Robert Szalacha died of carbon monoxide poisoning and burn injuries, the report said. It also noted that “careless use of smoking materials” contributed to his death. Both deaths were ruled accidents.


Thursday night, dozens of onlookers lined the street and peered from their porches as crews of firefighters beat back the blaze.

Two neighbors clung to each other, looking on in disbelief. The man and woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said they knew the couple and saw that their daughter had escaped the Thanksgiving Day inferno.

“No matter what time, it’s a tragedy,” said one of the neighbors.

By 10:40 p.m., the massive fire was largely reduced to smoldering rubble.