ALBANY PARK — Latoya Timms was asleep when the fire started raging through her apartment building early Monday.
The 43-year-old, who lived in a hulking Albany Park building on Richmond Avenue near Montrose for three years, heard the smoke detectors, smelled the smoke, felt the heat and knew she needed to get out. First, she scrambled to find her cat, Flash.
“I was meowing and calling out, ‘Flash, Flash.’ I didn’t know where he was at,” Timms said. “He looked just like Garfield. I had just bought him food. I loved my cat, and he loved me too.”
Timms never found Flash and doesn’t know if he made it out. Now, she and other tenants of the building — which burned down in a multi-building blaze early Monday — are working to rebuild their lives while finding temporary housing.
Neighbors gave Timms a sweater and blanket. The Red Cross gave her aid that she used to buy toiletries, clothes and other basic necessities. She’s staying with a friend for now.
“It’s awesome. It’s very awesome. I do appreciate it. I’m a true believer in God. I could have lost my life. I do appreciate it,” Timms said.
But there’s a lot of work of ahead of her.
“I’m feeling depression. Loneliness. It’s stressful,” Timms said. “I’ve never been through this before in my life.”
Timms is one of the many people the Albany Park community banded together to help after the fire severely damaged the apartment building and destroyed the neighboring Twisted Hippo Brewery and Ultimate Ninjas Gym.
Dozens of residents were displaced after the fire broke out about 3:30 a.m. Monday at the multi-unit residential building in the 4300 block of North Richmond Street.
The blaze started outside the three-story building and spread to the brewpub at 2925 W. Montrose Ave. and the gym next door, officials said. A 60-year-old man was hospitalized from smoke inhalation.
Since the fire, Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez’s (33rd) office has worked to connect the people who lost their homes with fundraising and donation efforts.
“We’ve been working really hard to just get direct contact with the tenants,” said Vicko Alvarez, 33rd Ward chief of staff.
The process of connecting people who lived in the apartment building with aid has been tricky due to them going in different directions in the fire’s aftermath, Alvarez said.
“They tried to find homes with family members. They went with friends, or there’s other sorts of temporary housing,” Alvarez said.
In addition to tracking down tenants of the Richmond apartment building, 33rd Ward staff has fielded dozens of messages from neighbors asking how they can help the people who lost their homes.
“That was actually incredible,” Alvarez said.
One of those efforts is the GoFundMe spearheaded by Christ Lutheran Church, 3253 W. Wilson Ave.
Launched two days ago, the fundraiser has collected $26,601 of its $30,000 goal from 416 people as of Friday.
Money from the GoFundMe will go directly toward the neighbors who lost their homes in Monday’s fire, said Christ Lutheran’s pastor, Tom Terrell.
“This fire was terrible and displaced over a dozen households,” Terrell said. “We set up the fundraiser because so many people have reached out wanting to help neighbors in this time of great distress.”
Another partner in the efforts to help the neighbors who lost their homes is the Albany Park Mutual Aid Network, which is collecting supplies that can help families as they transition into new housing, Terrell said.
The apartment building on Richmond had 21 apartments, though three were vacant, property owner Gary Carlson said.
Donald Morris, 67, is another tenant who woke up around around 4 a.m. Monday after smelling smoke.
Once Morris realized the apartment building was on fire, he got outside as fast as he could and watched the apartment and commercial buildings burn with at least 14 other neighbors, he said.
“I woke up to burning,” Morris said. “I woke up to a tragedy. I was stupid for living in that building as long as I did. I should have moved much earlier. I lost everything I’d already packed up.”
Morris had lived in the building for the past 10 years; before the fire, he was packing to move out of Carlson’s building due to issues — including roaches — that weren’t addressed quickly enough, he said.
The city has 72 court cases with Carlson attempting to hold him “accountable for non-compliance with the public safety and quality of life provisions of Municipal Code,” officials said.
Fire Department investigators are trying to determine the cause and source of the fire but said Monday night it likely started under a stair set in the gangway between Carlson’s apartments and Twisted Hippo.
Before Monday’s fire, Carlson was cited by the city for various issues at the Richmond apartment building.
“I was moving because I was tired of him not doing sh– for the past 10 years,” Morris said. “I don’t deserve that.”
Since the fire, Morris has temporarily moved into a hotel and is in the process of looking for more permanent housing. He is still struggling to pay for his day-to-day needs.
Morris appreciates neighbors stepping up to help him and his fellow tenants.
“I’m thankful if somebody wants to help,” he said. “I’m thankful to these people for what they’re doing. I’m grateful.”
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