DeKALB – As a fire raged through the second-floor hallway of Ridgebrook Apartments about 6 a.m., Ryan Carpenter knew the drill.
Carpenter, 37, lives on the second floor of the apartment building at 808 Ridge Drive. While several other residents were pinned in their apartments by fire and smoke, Carpenter was able to pack his cat, Angus, into his pet carrier, get out and get to work.
“We’ve had two big [fires like this] and a couple of little ones,” said Carpenter, who’s lived in the building about a year. “People lose their minds. That’s what I worry about. I don’t play in these situations. I get to work.”
So he said he grabbed a ladder and helped two people out of their apartments.
“Somebody else got one, too,” Carpenter said. “The whole second-floor hallway was engulfed.”
This marks the third big fire in the building since October, and the second to happen early in the morning. A 30-year-old DeKalb man was pronounced dead at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital after firefighters responded about 6:30 a.m.
Oct. 27 to a fire in a second-floor apartment.
Chikyta Williams, 24, of the 1000 block of Crane Drive was charged with arson after police said she set multiple fires Jan. 9 in an apartment in the building and remains in the DeKalb County Jail on $100,000 bond. On May 25, she filed a motion asking for a new lawyer, saying Public Defender Tom McCullough doesn’t visit her in jail and doesn’t return calls from her parents who have questions about her case.
DeKalb Fire Chief Eric Hicks said midday Wednesday the three fires initially appear to be unrelated to each other, but an investigation in ongoing. A release from the department sent Wednesday evening estimated the cost of the damage at $20,000.
The building is owned by Hunter Properties, and messages seeking comment have not yet been returned. Thaddeus Mack, the city’s chief building official said coincidentally, after the city brought up multiple code violations to the owners, the building passed Tuesday – less than 24 hours before the fire.
“I can emphatically say it wasn’t a result of lack of building maintenance,” Mack said.
He said the violations were the result of a top-to-bottom inspection, citing anything from holes in walls to fire extinguishers and smoke alarms.
Northern Illinois University student Aliyah Cunningham, 22, was one of the residents who was stuck in her apartment and had to scream from the window for help. She said her apartment was full of smoke.
“The top of my door was completely black, and I couldn’t see through my peephole,” she said.
An economics major, Cunningham said she’s lived in the building since 2016 and has been trying to just live and enjoy her life before summer classes start June 18. Barefoot, she paced the sidewalk, assuring her dad on the phone she was all right.
After firefighters responded at
6:16 a.m., DeKalb Deputy Fire Chief Jim Zarek said the fire was out within half an hour.
“It was really fast,” Cunningham said. “I am completely grateful. There is a God out there. This wasn’t really a shock, though. Fires happen here frequently, unfortunately.”
About 7 a.m., Zarek said firefighters would be doing secondary searches for some time, and that investigators are trying to determine what caused the fire. He said four people were removed from apartments on the north side of the building by ladder trucks and treated on site for smoke inhalation, and that they all declined to be taken to the hospital.
“This could have been a lot worse,” Zarek said. “With a fire in a building like this, it’s important to keep it to one area, so more people aren’t affected.”
He said it’s still being determined how many apartments were involved, and how many might be uninhabitable. The Sycamore, Malta, Maple Park, Kirkland, Shabbona, Rochelle, Cortland, Genoa-Kingston and Burlington fire departments, DeKalb Police Department and Rockford Fire Department’s investigative division assisted, according to a news release.
Trina Young, her two children and dog live on the first floor, and she said she knew she had to act fast when the alarm sounded. “We just heard people screaming, and knew we had to get out fast,” Young said.
D.J. Currie, 23, lives on the second floor, but fortunately for him, he was arriving home from his third-shift job at 3M, and saw smoke billowing out of the building.
“There was smoke just pouring out of the windows,” he said.
He said about 7:15 a.m. that he’d been told residents would get access to the building in about half an hour. He said he’s lived in the building about five months, and this is the first fire he’s dealt with at the building.
“I’m going to get me some renter’s insurance, though,” he said. “For now, though, I’m going to get some sleep – even if I have to curl up here on the grass.”