Alice Devan has lived in her home at 297 Desplaines Ave. in Riverside since it was built in the mid-1950s. But after a fire on Sunday afternoon devastated her red brick raised ranch, it’s unclear where the 94-year-old Devan will be living in the future.
Since her husband’s death in the early 1960s, Devan has lived a proudly independent life in the only home she’s ever owned. The oldest resident on the block, Devan is “still spry, a wonderful neighbor,” according to her next-door neighbor and close friend, Tim Boyd.
“We’re all saddened, but very grateful she’s OK,” said Boyd. “Everything’s up in the air right now.”
Devan, who suffered from smoke inhalation and some cuts to her arms, was taken by paramedics to MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn. Her injuries were described as non-life threatening, and she was kept at the hospital overnight for observation. A police officer who responded to the scene stated that Devan’s hair was singed and there were black smoke marks on her clothing.
The Riverside Fire Department received a 911 call about flames shooting and smoke spewing from the home around 3:30 p.m., but Fire Chief Spencer Kimura said the fire was likely burning for some time before that call was made.
According to Kimura, Devan said she was heating some water on the stove when the fire started. She reportedly left the home to notify a neighbor and, when she couldn’t do so, went back inside her home before the smoke and fire drove her out again.
A passing motorist called 911, said Kimura.
“There was a significant delay in getting help,” he said.
The fire gutted the kitchen, and firefighters removed all of the appliances and cabinets from the kitchen, placing them outside. The refrigerator, which stood near the stove in the kitchen before it was carried out and placed on the north side of the property, was charred inside and out. Firefighters cut a hole in the roof of the home and broke all of the windows to ventilate the structure.
Firefighters from Brookfield, Forest View, Lyons, McCook, North Riverside, Pleasantview and Westmont assisted in suppressing the fire. Fire investigators called to the scene included personnel from the following departments: Forest View, Hinsdale, Lyons, Darien-Woodridge, Western Springs and Pleasantview.
Both electricity and gas have been disconnected from the home, which was described as “uninhabitable.” The house sustained significant fire, smoke and water damage throughout, said Kimura.
Boyd said Devan kept very active, tending to the flowers in her garden up until last year. He did much of the landscaping for her, since moving next door to Devan 21 years ago.
“She’s a very independent, very alert woman,” he said.
Fire personnel remained on the scene until about 6 p.m.