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'It’s a great community': Displaced residents reflect after fire destroys Crystal Lake apartments

Officials suspect blaze was started by candle, caused $3.5M in damage

Nicolette Surico thought she was dreaming Wednesday morning when she heard bangs on the door of her
540 Devonshire Lane condo.

However, she said she soon realized the Crystal Lake Fire Department was responding to a reported structure fire at her building and escorting all residents away from the scene.

The fire was reported at 3:02 a.m. and caused $3.5 million in damage, according to a news release from the Crystal Lake Fire Department.
Officials suspect an unattended candle on an apartment balcony triggered the fire.

Crews arrived at 3:08 a.m. and reported fire visible from the roof of the two-story, multifamily building. Police and fire personnel immediately began evacuating the building, according to the release.

Surico said she helped one of her disabled neighbors, who is on oxygen, out of her home. Medics then provided her with additional oxygen, she said.

Surico commended the work of the emergency responders, who also managed to get her pet rabbit out of her home.

“It’s a great community,” Surico said.

Crystal Lake firefighters saw the fire quickly spread the length of the building through the attic. Multiple ladder trucks responded and got the fire under control by 5:20 a.m., according to the release.

Fire officials reported no injuries to any of the residents, but the fire and water damage to the building has rendered it uninhabitable. A total of
19 units were affected by the fire, and about 21 people were displaced. A firefighter suffered a minor injury, according to the fire department.

Gina Berg, who lived on the eastern side of the building, said she, her husband and her two cats all made it out of the building safely.

Although the exterior of her condo appears untouched, Berg said her kitchen roof is caved in and fire officials said she probably won’t be able to get into her apartment to recover anything.

The American Red Cross and building management were at the scene helping residents find shelter.

Nathan Bargo – pastor of the Real Life Church of the Nazarene, which is across the street from the building – said he was awakened by the fire rescue crews. Once he realized what was going on, he opened the doors of his church to displaced residents about
5 a.m. and allowed Red Cross volunteers to use it as a base of operations.

Red Cross volunteers Anita Zeken, Dave Langenstrass and Jackie Speciale were at the scene for hours to provide short-term assistance for families.

In addition to emergency provisions, such as toiletries and clean clothes, the Red Cross also provided a list of emergency contacts and service providers – such as the post office or cable providers – residents should call to cancel or redirect service.

“It’s hard to think when something like this happens,” Zeken said. “This is a way for them to organize their thoughts.”

Langenstrass said the Red Cross made contact with most of the residents of occupied units in the building and everyone they spoke with had a place they could stay Wednesday night.

Scott Offord, co-owner of Country Donuts, said he was riding his bike to work about 4:45 a.m. when he got a call from the Red Cross asking if they could provide any doughnuts for displaced residents. Offord gladly accepted and donated several dozen doughnuts and coffee to the residents.

The complex has been turned back over to the property management company.

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