After it turned out at least nine people were living in a home at 581Glenview Avenue that burned Dec. 21 with two in basement bedrooms, Highland Park Police Chief Paul Shafer will not rule out a criminal investigation.
Two people were injured in the blaze, one of them critically. That man was unconscious inside the house when Highland Park firefighters arrived shortly after 4:25 a.m., discovered him with thermal imaging technology and got him out, according to Highland Park Fire Chief Pat Tanner.
The critically injured man, who was still in critical condition at the Loyola University Medical Center burn unit Thursday, according to Tanner, was found in one of two basement bedrooms. Basement bedrooms are a violation of the Highland Park Building Code, according to Highland Park Building Division Manager Scott Moe.
That was not the only code violation in a fire that was caused by outdated space heaters in the basement bedrooms, according to Tanner. There were no working smoke detectors.
“The cause was misuse of heating devices,” Tanner said. “There were no functioning smoke detectors in the home.” It is the responsibility of the homeowner, in this case a limited liability company, to provide the smoke detectors.
There are limits to the number of people living in a residence in the City but those requirements vary depending on relationships between the occupants as well as size, according to Moe. The exact number of people living there also remains in question. Nine people were outside the building and one inside when the firefighters arrived.
“It’s hard to say (how many were there) because people run away,” Tanner said. “We know about nine in the front yard.”
At this point, the investigation is one of code violations being conducted by the fire and building departments. That could change if it turns out the victims were injured because of a violation of the law.
“If an ordinance was violated and we feel there was reckless conduct, that somebody should know better, it could be something the (Lake County) State’s Attorney could take a look at,” Shafer said.
For now, the Highland Park City Council will discuss the matter in conjunction with its ongoing review of how it can require landlords of residential units to submit their property to inspection. That discussion is scheduled Jan. 13 during a meeting of the Council’s Committee of the Whole.
In September, the Council had a first look after Shafer brought citizen complaints to the City’s legislative body. At that time, it asked City Attorney Steve Elrod to take a look at what could be done, according to Moe.
Tanner is also concerned about space heaters in general in Highland Park homes. If they do not have automatic shutoff capability should they tip, he encourages people to get rid of them.
“If they’re older and have no automatic shutoff throw them out,” Tanner said. “They should be 12 inches away from the bed and anything flammable. Don’t plug them in to an extension cord.”