Investigators seek cause of Illinois fire that killed seven

Associated Press / February 16, 2010

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CICERO, Ill. - Firefighters shifted through a burned-out house in a Chicago suburb yesterday, trying to pinpoint the cause of a weekend blaze that killed seven people, including a 3-day-old baby.

Ron Opalecky, an assistant fire marshal in Cicero, said fire officials believe the blaze started in the rear of the house, which had several two- and three-bedroom apartments.

It was unclear how many people lived in the building. Town spokesman Ray Hanania said 23 people escaped.

“To happen on a day when families are usually coming together for love and life - Valentine’s Day - it makes it even more tragic,’’ said Hanania. “It impacted everybody, including the firemen.’’

He said initial reports indicated the victims might have been related. The blaze, which started around 6:30 a.m., was extinguished in about an hour, Hanania said.

Neighbors, meanwhile, remembered those who died in Sunday’s fire. Esther Soto described one of the victims as a 3-year-old boy who would come over and give people hugs and kisses. Four teenagers also died in the blaze.

The Cook County medical examiner’s office was conducting autopsies.

Three firefighters suffered non life-threatening injuries, Hanania said. The survivors were taken to hotels in the Cicero area, which is about 10 miles southwest of Chicago.

Two other buildings were damaged, including an adjacent house, officials said.

Hanania said city officials would investigate whether any safety or occupancy codes were violated in the building.

Resident Lorraine Santana told the Chicago Tribune that she was sleeping when she awoke to screams. She escaped with her three children and a dog.

The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago provided food, clothing, and shelter.