Carlon Brown lives on the 15th floor of the Kenwood high-rise where a fatal fire broke out Wednesday morning. Numerous residents, including Brown, have been displaced from the building — which has a history of fire-related code violations, according to city records.
Brown said she hasn’t been allowed to return to her apartment — which is across the hall from where the fire is believed to have started — since the fire was put out around noon Wednesday after she rushed home from work.
“I’m sure it’s quite extensive damage to the place,” she said. “So I’m just trying to figure out what to do.”
She had come back again Thursday morning with her daughter to see if she could go up to her place, but was told she couldn’t. Crews came in and out of the building as a group of Red Cross volunteers brought in doughnuts and coffee for displaced residents.
The fire killed one person and injured at least nine others, including a firefighter who suffered an orthopedic injury. It took approximately 300 firefighters and 80 pieces of equipment to put out the fire in just under two hours.
The person who died hadn’t been identified as of Thursday afternoon, but it was determined they died of thermal and inhalation injuries, according to information by the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
The building, a co-op at 4850 S. Lake Park Ave., has been cited for fire-related code violations at least 11 times since October 2021, according to Department of Buildings records. The Harper Square Housing Corp., which owns the building, refused to comment when reached by the Tribune Thursday.
According to city records, the 25-story building, which was built in 1970, was informed at least four times in 2022 to “provide for an annual fire alarm/voice communication system test,” after failing building inspections. Other citations referred to missing fire tags on doors and a defective fire pump.
“I didn’t know about that till I saw it on the news, you know, like everybody else,” Brown said. “The floor that I’m on, it’s not safe because there’s no fire escape and it’s only one way out. And then you know, just to see that I’m like, ‘Oh, my God. That’s a lot of violations.’ And for this to happen — had I been at home, I wouldn’t have been able to leave my apartment.”
Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said that, as far as the department knows, the communications system and the fire pump, “worked well” the day of the fire. Firefighters used the building’s communication system to alert residents to the fire.
City records also show that the high-rise failed multiple inspections in 2022, including one conducted by the Fire Prevention Bureau on Dec. 1, 2022, when the building was cited for issues in its fire system. The inspection found only a minor problem with a fire pump but nothing that was considered a safety issue at the time.
Violations from Nov. 7, 2022 — which included violations for missing interior trash door tags, for the exterior masonry and for failing to file the required high-rise exterior wall report — were referred to the Department of Law, which filed an enforcement action in the Circuit Court of Cook County. The case is scheduled to be heard Feb. 2.
On Oct. 27, 2021, an inspection required the building to repair and maintain the automatic sprinkler system.