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Official: Kids with fireworks started extra-alarm Pilsen blaze

An extra-alarm blaze at a three-story brick building in the city’s Pilsen neighborhood this afternoon apparently was started by children playing with fireworks, fire officials said.

By about 5:20 p.m., the fire that spread to two nearby buildings from the three-story brick building at 1323 W. 18th St. was under control. An 80-year-old woman was taken in fair-to-serious condition with minor smoke inhalation to University of Illinois at Chicago Hospital after being rescued from the second floor, Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff said at the scene of the fire.

Hoff said it appears the fire was started by two or three young people, at least one of them a pre-teen, playing with fireworks on a rear porch of 1323 W. 18th Street, and that the fire spread to 1319 and 1317 W. 18th. The children told firefighters that they were playing unattended.

“We wanted to just spread the word and let people know that we think that this fire started as the result of fireworks," Fire Departmetn spokesman Larry Langford said on the scene of the fire.

At least two of the children suspected of lighting the fireworks, and their family members, declined to comment this evening.

The way the buildings are constructed close to each other allowed the fire spread quickly to buildings to the east, from 1323 W. 18th, which houses a hardware store on the first floor and apartments above, Hoff said. There was a partial collapse of the first building's attic.

Firefighters were called to the scene just before 4:30 p.m., and the first firetrucks arrived within three minutes, Hoff said. By then the apartment adjacent to the porch where the fire started was fully involved, Hoff said. About 150 firefighters responded, officials said.

Hoff urged parents to take their children to professional fireworks shows and to supervise their children.

“Children unattended playing with fireworks—this is what is going to happen,” Hoff said.

One neighborhood resident said she at first saw flames shooting out of the attic, and then saw a man and an older woman flee the building.

Rodolfo Alvarez, 59, owner of the building and Alvarez Hardware which is on the ground level, said he closed about 2 p.m. because of the holiday and returned to his Berwyn home.

At about 4 p.m. he received a call from a friend who said there was a fire but she initially believed it was next door to his building - which has four, two-bedroom apartment units above the store. 

Alvarez said that two families occupy two apartments in the building. The others are each occupied by single people.

When he returned to his building he saw dozens of firefighters, police officers and more than a hundred bystanders watching as the buildings burned.

Alvarez appeared calm as he stood across the street from his building, which he has owned for 30 years. He expects the coming days to prove challenging as he assesses the damage, but he seemed hopeful.

"If it's a sound structure I'll redo, I'll bring it back again," Alvarez said.

Tribune photographer Heather Charles and Tribune reporter Liam Ford contributed

sedaniels@tribune.com, cdizikes@tribune.com

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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