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High-rise fires major concern since 2003 Cook County fire

Residents left horrified by deadly Kenwood high-rise fire

Residents left horrified by deadly Kenwood high-rise fire


CHICAGO (CBS) — A fire at a high-rise residential building in the Kenwood neighborhood Wednesday left a woman dead and nine others injured.

The extra-alarm fire broke out shortly after 10 am on the 15th floor at the Harper Square Cooperative residential building at 4850 S. Lake Park Ave. Propelled by the wind, the fire climbed to the 24th floor.


High-rise fires have been a source of major concern and government action since another deadly fire—this one in what is now called the George W. Dunne Cook County Office Building coming up on 20 years ago.

That fire broke out on Oct. 17, 2003, at what was then known as the Cook County Administration Building, at 69 W. Washington St. downtown. Flames were seen shooting out of the windows of the building overlooking Dearborn Street as plumes of black smoke rose up. Smoke also rose from some of the windows overlooking Washington Street and Daley Plaza.



Six people were killed in the fire when they found themselves trapped in a smoky stairwell when the doors locked behind them.

Killed in the fire were Cook County Public Guardian’s office colleagues Maureen McDonald, John Slater III, and Sara Chapman, clinical counselor Felice Lichaw, Forest Preserve attorney Janet Grant, and cleaning lady Teresa Zajac.

The 2003 fire led to new regulations for high-rise buildings in Chicago.

An ordinance that followed in 2004 required all high-rises built before a 1975 fire ordinance to set up voice communication systems, sprinkler systems or other suppression mechanisms, and fireproofing to protect stairwells and openings on balconies or vestibules.

There have been several deadly high-rise fires in Chicago since the 2003 fire. Like the Kenwood fire on Wednesday, the other high-profile fires happened in residential high-rises. They include:

  • On Jan. 25, 2007, two people were killed and two were injured in a fire on the 26th floor of a 42-story high-rise at 2626 N. Lake View Ave. A fire broke out on the 24th floor of the same building on Oct. 25, 2012, but caused no injuries. A fire on the 16th floor of the building on March 24, 2013 left a man in critical condition.
  • On Dec 10, 2009, 84-year-old Beata Bihl was killed in a towering fire in the 51-story Plaza on DeWitt condo building, at 260 E. Chestnut St. about a block from the John Hancock Center. Twelve people were hospitalized. A person had died in a fire in the same building in January 2002, according to published reports.
  • On Jan. 8, 2012, 32-year-old Shantel McCoy was killed when a fire broke out in a 21-story rental building at 3130 N. Lake Shore Dr. West, at Briar Place. McCoy died when she unwittingly got into an elevator on her floor and was greeted by intense heat and smoke.


The scene after a deadly fire in the high-rise at 3130 N. Lake Shore Dr. in 2012. (Credit: CBS)

Back in Kenwood, CBS 2’s Tara Molina also reported the building has a history of failed fire inspections other another fire back in 2021, which left two women and a firefighter injured. It remained unclear late Wednesday exactly how many units were impacted in the Kenwood fire, or how many people were displaced. The cause of the fire is unknown.

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