Larry Shapiro video (part 1)

More photos from the 5-Alarm fire with 2 Specials and a 2-Alarm EMS Box in Prospect Heights, 7-18-18 

Tim Olk photo

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Massive fire destroys 3 apartment buildings on McIntosh Court in Prospect Heights, IL 7/18/18. Tim Olk photo

Excerpts from the

When firefighters responded to a fire at one of the 16 buildings that make up the River Trails Condominium complex in Prospect Heights Wednesday afternoon, they knew the blaze could quickly get out of hand.

Investigators said a juvenile accidentally ignited the blaze. No charges have been filed. The blaze started in a second-floor unit in the southernmost building on McIntosh Court and rapidly spread upward and outward. Once it reached the attic, the blaze had unfettered access to the other three buildings. The mansard-style roof that hangs over the third floor also allowed the fire to glide effortlessly along the structure’s side as the flames fed on air inside the enclosed eaves. A mild breeze then helped stoke the flames.

Firefighters made every attempt to stop or slow the spread of flames, but they were thwarted by the fire’s ability to keep moving until it got to the northernmost building. There, they made a successful stand against the encroaching flames.

“We tried to cut in several spots before that to try and stop it,” Prospect Heights Fire District Chief Drew Smith said. “It was a futile effort. If this would have happened at 1 a.m. instead of 1 p.m. like it did, I don’t know how this would have turned out.”

Fire safety officials blame the speed and scope on a lack of modern fire safety devices and construction. The 46-year-old complex had no building-wide fire alarms, sprinkler systems, fire walls or attic separators — all fire safety features that experts say would have stopped or significantly slowed the inferno.

New apartments are required to have sprinkler systems, firewalls to keep fires from spreading to other units, and attic separators that restrict overhead air flow in the building to lower the risk of fires spreading. None of the buildings that burned Wednesday had those, and none had building-wide fire alarms. Because of their age, the Prospect Heights buildings were not required to have those fire safety measures in place.

And under current city code, if the apartments are rebuilt, they still might not have them. If more than 50 percent of the buildings that burned are salvageable, the city can’t force the owners to retrofit the buildings to comply with modern fire codes.

Prospect Heights Fire District Chief Drew Smith warns against rebuilding the apartments as if nothing happened. “We are going to meet with the city and try to put forth a strategy for what comes next,” he said. “We need them to have a fire alarm in these buildings, at the very least.”

On Christmas Eve morning 2006, a blaze caused by Christmas lights in a second-floor unit had the entire third floor engulfed in 10 minutes. That fire also spread to a neighboring building, though firefighters were able to quickly extinguish it. In the end, only 30 percent of the building was destroyed and it was reconstructed without a sprinkler system or other modern fire suppression measures.

Estimates indicate retrofitting existing buildings with sprinklers costs between $2 and $7 per square foot, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The 16 buildings at River Trails contain roughly 380,000 square feet of living space, putting the estimated cost at somewhere between $760,000 and $2.7 million. That the cost would require a special assessment that would possibly be passed on to renters, who might then be priced out of their homes. Most of the River Trails units are individually owned and rented out to others.

Several towns require sprinklers in new construction of single-family homes.

thanks Dan