Residents lose homes, belongings in condominium fire
By Casey Toner firstname.lastname@example.org November 25, 2012 6:18PM
Neal Dickinson holds his cat, Roger, after finding him hiding under his bed on Sunday, the day after a fire displaced Dickinson and 44 other residents of a Morgan Park condominium building in Morgan Park. | Casey Toner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 27, 2012 6:25AM
Brigette Douglas was washing her hair in her first-floor condominium in Chicago’s Morgan Park community about 1:30 p.m. Saturday when she heard the walls start to crackle.
“It sounded like firecrackers or popcorn in the popper,” Douglas said.
She walked outside into the hallway, put her hand against the wall and felt heat on the other side. Immediately, she fled the five-story building at 2030 W. 111th St. and started screaming at her neighbors to get out — the building was on fire.
A cat died, but nobody was seriously injured in the fire, which displaced 45 residents from all 34 units, according to Lula Mays, the board president of the Terrace Place West Condominiums. She has been a resident there for 40 years and worked as the condominium property manager.
Mays said she was working in her fifth-floor office when she heard Douglas screaming at her from below. She jumped to action and knocked on all of her neighbors’ doors and then fled.
“We are a community,” said Douglas, who plans to stay with her boyfriend down the street. “When it comes down to it, you’re going to help out your neighbors.”
Chicago firefighters responded to the 3-11 alarm blaze in force. Twelve engines, four trucks, two tower ladders, five battalion chiefs, one deputy district chief, one district chief, a deputy fire commissioner, a command van and an ambulance were on the scene.
Gentry Lassiter, a Greater Chicago Red Cross spokesman, said the Red Cross provided food, shelter and medicine for two families affected by the fire.
Donna Claxton said she was in her second-story condominium studying for an online class at Benedictine University when the fire started. Thick white and black smoke was pouring out of the building by the time she left with none of her belongings. Like many residents, she lost everything inside.
“It was just stuff,” Claxton said. “You have to focus on that — it was just stuff.”
However, some residents were allowed to salvage what they could of their homes Sunday. Those who lived in condominiums that weren’t destroyed were given 10 minutes to enter their homes with building inspectors and load up garbage backs with their most valuable belongings.
For some, it was a chance to salvage clothing, old photographs, valuable documents and keepsakes.
For Neal Dickinson, it meant a desperate search for his black-and-white cat Roger, 6, named after baseball slugger Roger Maris. Roger was well-known among the building’s residents who would often see the cat sit and look out of Dickinson’s second-story window.
Dickinson said he couldn’t find his feline friend when he fled the building Saturday, and a 10-minute search early Sunday morning didn’t turn up Roger either.
He was given one more time to search for him Sunday afternoon, and this time, he found Roger huddled underneath his bed.
“You could tell he was really scared,” Dickinson said. “He was shaking.”
When Dickinson returned with Roger perched on his shoulder, it came as a welcome sight to his fellow neighbors, who cheered for their reunion.
“He’s my friend,” Dickinson said, clutching the cat. “It was just me and him in there.”
Mays said Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) was organizing a meeting for the building’s residents Sunday night at 115 Bourbon Street in Merrionette Park. Regardless of the damage, Mays and other residents expressed an interest to return to the building and stay within the city’s 19th ward.
“I love this area,” said Mays, who will be living with relatives in South Holland. “It’s like a suburb in the city.”