The fire started in a top-floor unit at 8011 Edgewater Road in North Riverside just before midnight on Oct. 13 and spread to a stairway landing and another unit. Smoke traveled throughout the complex, forcing a full evacuation. | Bob Uphues/Editor

Investigators are still working to determine the exact origin and cause of a two-alarm fire that started on the top floor of a 44-unit apartment building at 8011 Edgewater Road just before midnight on Oct. 13 and resulted in a complete evacuation of the tenants.

Fire gutted two top-floor units of the U-shaped building’s west wing, according to North Riverside Fire Chief Bob McDermott, as well as the top-floor landing of a stairwell serving units in that part of the building. Fire also damaged another apartment on the opposite side of the landing.

“The fire started in one unit and got up into the space between the ceiling and the roof, and it started to run horizontally,” McDermott said. “That’s why we have the ceilings pulled down, because we had to chase the fire there.”

While the fire was contained to a relatively small portion of the 1920s-era courtyard building, McDermott said heavy smoke traveled throughout the structure, forcing the emergency evacuation of the entire apartment complex.

A handful of residents overcome by smoke were taken to hospitals, said McDermott, but he did not have an exact count.

“We don’t know why the smoke made it as bad as it did over [to the east wing],” McDermott said.

Officials are still unclear on the exact number of people displaced by the fire. As of noon on Oct. 14, village officials were still trying to obtain a tenant list from the building’s management company.

8011 Edgewater Road, North Riverside

It’s not clear just how long those with units in the west wing will remain displaced, but McDermott indicated it could be lengthy. In addition to fire damage, the wing sustained smoke and water damage. The chief said the village’s building inspector would be assessing any potential structural damage.

McDermott said the village had hoped to get residents of the south and east wings into their units by late on Oct. 14, but that the situation was complicated by the way utilities are delivered to the building.

There’s only one gas meter for the entire complex, making it difficult to isolate the units in the west wing, where utilities will remain disconnected.

“It’s a pressure system, so it’s complicated,” McDermott said. “It’s labor intensive and [Nicor workers] have to have access to every single unit.”

Emergency personnel evacuated tenants to Sts. Peter and Paul Lutheran Church, 250 Woodside Road in Riverside, which sits directly across 31st Street from the apartment building.

According to McDermott, many of the displaced tenants found shelter with family. However, representatives from the American Red Cross did help a few tenants find emergency housing.

Cook County property records show the apartment building is owned by a real estate trust and managed by a company called Property Rental Inc. Those two entities are also connected to the Tower Apartments in Riverside, where in February 2021 tenants were displaced for more than a week when the heating plant failed amid sub-zero temperatures.

The village of North Riverside did not immediately respond to a request by the Landmark for property maintenance records and copies of any documented complaints from tenants about the Edgewater Road building.

This story has been changed to correct the number of units in the apartment building.