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Deadly Fire In Kenwood High-Rise Was Caused By Someone Smoking In A Bedroom, Fire Officials Say

A smoke detector was not working in the 15th-floor apartment where the fire started Wednesday at the Harper Square Cooperative, officials said.

A Wednesday at the Harper Square apartments in Kenwood critically injured at least one person and blew out windows on several floors, fire officials said.
Chicago Fire Department
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KENWOOD — This week’s deadly fire in a Kenwood high-rise was started by someone smoking in a resident’s bedroom, fire officials said.

Units on nine of the 25 floors at the Harper Square Cooperative apartments, 4850 S. Lake Park Ave. in Kenwood, caught fire Wednesday morning.

One person was found dead in the 15th-floor unit where the fire started, seven people were hospitalized in fair to good condition and a firefighter was slightly injured, officials said. More than 30 other residents declined treatment at a nearby hospital.

The fire started when someone accidentally set flammable material on fire in an apartment as they smoked, officials announced Thursday.

“The Office of Fire Investigation has concluded the cause of the extra alarm fire on [Lake Park Avenue] is careless use of smoking materials that ignited combustibles in a bedroom,” fire officials said in a statement. “The fire is accidental.”

A smoke detector in the apartment was not working at the time of the fire, officials said.

Smoke detectors in Harper Square apartments are battery-operated, and detectors in the building’s hallways are wired to the building’s electricity, Fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt said at a news conference Wednesday.

Fire and water damage has left “the entire east side of the apartment building” uninhabitable, Ald. Sophia King said Wednesday. Dozens of residents received help from the Red Cross following the fire, she said.

The Harper Square Cooperative building was cited for 19 fire-related violations since October 2021, according to city data. Officials have not established a link between the violations and Wednesday’s fire.

Two violations were still outstanding as of this week, buildings department spokesperson Michael Puccinelli said. City inspectors visited Harper Square Nov. 7, 2022 and twice cited the building for not having fire tags on trash closet doors.

They also found violations relating to the building’s masonry and a failure to file a report on the condition of the exterior walls, though there’s no indication these are related to fire safety.

City attorneys have sued to resolve the November violations in Cook County Circuit Court. That case will be heard Feb. 2.

The building was cited at least 17 other times for fire safety violations in the last 15 months. All of these have since been resolved with the building department, Puccinelli said.

Six of those violations included instructions to complete a test of the fire alarm and emergency communication system and submit the results. The rest largely related to repairing or replacing aspects of the fire pump, standpipe and sprinkler systems.

The building’s communication system and fire pump apparently “worked well” Wednesday, fire department spokesperson Larry Langford told the Tribune.

Building department “inspectors were on the scene of [Wednesday’s] tragic fire and will work closely with the Chicago Fire Department in its investigation and assessment of the damage,” Puccinelli said.

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