UPTOWN — Six residents of an Uptown tent encampment have been displaced after a fire broke out Tuesday morning under DuSable Lake Shore Drive.
The fire broke out about 7 a.m. Tuesday in the Lawrence Avenue viaduct, which for years has housed a large tent encampment, residents and authorities said.
A tent caught fire and the flames spread to neighboring tents, causing propane tanks used for space heaters to explode, two residents said. The explosion charred much of the Lawrence Avenue viaduct, which remained blackened and filled with soot early Tuesday afternoon.
Firefighters extinguished the flames and no one was injured, police said. Six residents lost their shelter after their tents caught fire, police said.
Kiya, a resident of the camp, was with her husband Tuesday morning near the off ramp, where the two were seeking donations from passing drivers. She looked over and saw a fire coming from under the south sidewalk of the viaduct, near their tent and belongings.
Kiya ran to wake up her uncle, Kyle, whose tent is on the opposite side of the viaduct from where the fire started. Kyle ran out of the tent to safety.
“I woke up and it was just black smoke,” Kyle said. “Just a ball of fire out here.”
Kyle’s tent was spared, while Kiya’s and every one else’s property on that side of the viaduct was destroyed. Both residents asked that their last names not be used.
“I lost everything,” Kiya said. “Literally all that I had except for the clothes on my back.”
The northern sidewalk of the Lawrence viaduct, which houses about a dozen tents, was not impacted by the fire.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Medical workers, caseworkers and staff from the city’s Department of Family and Support Services responded to the scene to help residents, said Maggie Gaecke, deputy chief of staff to Ald. James Cappleman (46th).
City crews cleaned up fire debris under the viaduct, Gaecke said.
The viaduct is not very hospitable, given the ground is still covered in dirt and soot, Kyle said. His tent remains because there is nowhere else for Kiya and him to go.
“My niece has to stay here now because she lost everything,” he said.
Unhoused residents have taken shelter under the Lawrence Avenue viaduct in Uptown for years.
The residents long have fought city officials in an effort to seek shelter under the Lawrence Avenue and other DuSable Lake Shore Drive viaducts. That includes legal battles against the city over planned viaduct renovations and a protected bike lane that was added to the viaduct sidewalk rather than the street. Most recently, a 2019 clean-up sweep of the tent city caused residents to worry about renewed efforts at displacement, they said at the time.
Those wishing to help the residents of the Lawrence Avenue viaduct encampment can reach out and donate to the organizations that have historically supported them, according to the 46th Ward Office. Those organizations include: