Dog woke man who warned residents about massive Woodstock apartment fire

“The American Red Cross responded and provided toiletries and comfort items to the displaced residents. They were providing lodging to 43 people from 32 units, 20 to 25 of which were destroyed, said Catherine Rabenstine, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross of Chicago and Northern Illinois.

‘In this case I think we provided people with financial assistance to find a hotel to ensure that they have a warm, comfortable place to stay tonight and for a couple days,” Rabenstine said. “We provide assistance families need to meet their immediate needs when they’ve lost everything.’

Rabenstine also said the group brought in breakfast and lunch for the residents and for emergency crews. Firefighters were at the location through Saturday afternoon.”

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Family appeals for donations for themselves and neighbors after fire destroys homes

Ashley Sellars cried as she stood outside her grandmother’s Austin home and watched 40 years of memories go up in flames.

The fire started in an apartment building down the block Dec. 3 and spread to two other houses. As firefighters rushed around her, Sellars thought about all the family dinners her grandmother had hosted every Sunday.

By the time the fire was out, the brick home Sellars knew as the family fortress was gutted. All their belongings were gone.

Sellars’ 90-year-old grandmother, known in the neighborhood as Mrs. Bailey, bought the building with her late husband. As devastating as the fire was, Sellars said her grandmother embraced her family and assured them that things would be alright.

“She told me she hasn’t cried yet and I’m trying to follow her lead, but it isn’t easy,” Sellars said this week.

While searching for anything that was salvageable, Sellars said she saw her next-door neighbor sifting through ashes of her home. “She was outside crying and rummaging through her baby’s burned items,” Sellars said.

The baby is about 6 months old, and the neighbor also has a 6-year-old daughter, Sellars said.

She said she and her family decided to appeal for help for her as well. They have started a GoFundMe page asking for cash donations and contributions of shoes, clothes and whatever else people might need to put their lives back together.

“We are asking not only for ourselves but also for the occupants of the house next door,” the Sellars family says on the GoFundMe page. “We need any donations.”

For now, the displaced family is being given temporary shelter with the help of the American Red Cross.  “The Red Cross came and after I talked to one of their workers I found out that this happens to several people during this time of year,” Sellars said.

She said the ordeal has been especially tough for her 36-year-old brother Brandon who has autism.  “Autistic people need consistency,” Sellars said. “Things have to be in the same place and you can’t change their routine suddenly. This is really difficult for him.”

Catherine Rabenstine, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross of Chicago and Northern Illinois, said a fire in the home is the biggest threat to families. The agency responds to three to four fires a daily throughout the year, she said.

In Chicago and northern Illinois, the Red Cross has responded to about 69 home fires so far during the month of December, Rabenstine said.

Most home fires can be prevented with regular upkeep and use of smoke alarms, she said.

In the the case of the fire that destroyed the Bailey home, Fire Department officials said the extra-alarm fire was being investigated as possible arson.

Neighbors have speculated the fire may have been set by a squatter in the apartment building.  Community members had been trying to get it boarded up because squatters had been living there for the past couple of years, neighbors said.

On the GoFundMe page, the Sellars family asks for donations of shoes, coats and winter accessories and said they can be dropped off at the following locations:

— First Corinthian Baptist, 922 South Keeler Ave.

— Chicago International Christen Church, 211 South Laflin St.

— Clara’s House, 650 W. 63rd St.

— Whitney Young High School, 211 S. Laflin St.

“There’s always a blessing in the storm,” Sellars said. “I’m glad everyone made it through unharmed. Possessions can be replaced but life can’t.”

Red Cross helps residents of Oswego Township apartment fire

Local and regional organizations are assisting the victims of a Nov. 6 apartment building fire that displaced 24 families in unincorporated Oswego Township.

The apartment building is located in the Shore Heights Village apartment complex off Light Road, immediately east of Augusta Road.

Catherine Rabenstine, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross of Chicago and Northern Illinois, said Tuesday that the Red Cross provided victims with “assistance with food, lodging and other immediate needs.”

“We go right to the scene of the emergency and open individual cases for families so we can help walk people through their immediate needs and provide resources,” Rabenstine said. “In this case, we also opened a reception center, where families could come for Red Cross resources the day the home fire took place.”

The Kendall County Community Food Pantry and the St. Vincent de Paul organization also offered assistance, Rabenstine said.

Rabenstine said the Oswego community has united in the aftermath of the fire.

“Responding to disasters like a home fire is a community effort and the Oswego community truly has come together to make sure the people affected have what they need,” she said.

Rabenstine recommended people who want to help visit and make a financial donation, schedule an appointment to donate blood or apply to be a Red Cross volunteer.

Oswego Fire Protection District Assistant Fire Chief John Cornish said Tuesday that most of the damage caused by the fire was contained inside the two-story 24-unit apartment building. The building was constructed in 1972, according to Kendall County property records.

Cornish said the fire started in the wall of an upstairs apartment where a maintenance worker, who had been working on a pipe, and a resident unsuccessfully attempted to put it out before calling the fire department.

“The fire spread up the wall and into the attic,” Cornish said.

The fire caused extensive damage to four upstairs apartments, while the downstairs units experienced water damage, according to Cornish.

“There was smoke damage throughout the building,” he noted.

Cornish said firefighters were summoned to the blaze at 10:36 a.m. and remained at the scene until 2:30 p.m.

No residents or firefighters were injured, he said.

Brian Holdiman, Kendall County’s building code official, said Tuesday that he deemed the apartment building uninhabitable after inspecting it Tuesday morning. He said he spoke with representatives of the management company for the complex, and that the company is having a contractor and the insurance company evaluate the building on Wednesday.

“I would assume that they can rebuild the structure, but I won’t know for sure until I got those reports from the contractor,” Holdiman said.

The units at the ends of the building suffered the least damage, Holdiman said.

“There’s not a lot of smoke damage or water damage in the end units,” he said.

However, Holdiman said another question mark is the electrical system in the building, as well as the HVAC system, and he wants those looked at before he deems it safe to turn the power on in the building.

“Until we have those systems evaluated, I don’t feel safe letting anybody turn the power back on,” he said.

After the building is evaluated, and it’s deemed safe, the building officials “most likely” may allow residents to occupy the end units, he said.

John Etheredge contributed to this story