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

Scores of people – North Riverside officials say they still are not sure the exact number – are attempting to piece their lives together after an Oct. 13 fire at a 44-unit apartment building at 8011 Edgewater Road left them without homes.

No one was killed in the late-night blaze, which started about 11:45 p.m., but at least six people were treated for smoke inhalation. The Landmark has learned that at least one family – a husband and wife and their three daughters – were treated for smoke inhalation at two different hospitals, with at least one of the victims needing a ventilator.

While fire damage was limited to two top-floor units in the west wing of the 1920s-era courtyard building, all three wings of the four-story building sustained heavy smoke damage.

People ran from the building so quickly, according to Fire Chief Bob McDermott, that one resident exited into the chilly October night wearing nothing but a towel.

Due to the extent of the damage, and concerns about at least part of the building’s structural integrity, the village served the building’s property management company with a notice of condemnation. All utilities have been shut off to the building and a security fence blocks entry to the courtyard entrance.

However, in an effort to allow residents of the building to retrieve personal items from their units, North Riverside police and fire personnel will be at the building on Oct. 19 and 20 from 10 a.m. to noon to escort people to their units.

Tenants are being instructed to contact the property management company to set up an appointment to salvage items from their units.

“We want to help as many people as we can, as quickly as we can,” said McDermott.

Meanwhile, BEDS Plus, a LaGrange-based nonprofit assisting those in need of housing, continues to accept applications for assistance. Joann Boblick, the nonprofit’s stabilization services director, said she is assisting 10 households presently and urged others to contact her if they need help at 708-354-0858, ext. 116.

“People are in crisis, and there’s not a time limit on when you have to move on,” Boblick said. “It’s going to be weeks of people reaching out to us.”

Anyone displaced by the fire can also choose to visit the BEDS Plus office in person at their 9601 Ogden Ave. location in LaGrange. 

In addition to securing emergency housing, BEDS Plus will work with households to find permanent housing and has the ability to help tenants navigate the lease process and pay security deposits through a combination of state and federal funds as well as private donations.

“We have two families at this point who are close to having a new place to live identified,” said Boblick.

BEDS Plus also is partnering with the St. Vincent DePaul Society to get displaced household vouchers to obtain clothing, coats, school supplies and other basic needs. She said BEDS Plus can also help those households staying with family elsewhere in the Chicago area to work with school districts to make sure children can be transported to and from school.

The agency has a nurse who can work with those who had to leave prescription medications behind and need to get them from a pharmacy. 

“Everybody is ready to help you,” Boblick said. “Just come on in.”

Local officials expect the apartment building, which is owned by a real estate trust and managed by a firm called Property Rental Inc., to be uninhabitable for a long time. The Landmark has requested property maintenance records, including past citations for code violations, for the building from the village.

Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti told the Landmark the day after the fire that the village’s building inspector already noted “serious concerns” over the building’s structural integrity.

“There’s a lot of concern over the load of the structure,” said Scarpiniti, adding that some of the bricks have started to pull away from the interior courtyard wall of the west wing, where the fire damage was concentrated.

There also remain concerns about why smoke from the fire in the west wing so quickly traveled throughout the entire building, causing a great deal of smoke damage in areas of the building unaffected by the fire itself.

In addition, the building inspector expressed concern about the building’s electrical system as well as heating-related issues.

In recent years, the Landmark has received calls from tenants, who identify the landlord as Riverside resident Ronald Kafka, complaining about conditions there. Kafka has consistently claimed not to be the owner of that and other properties associated with him.

However, it was Kafka and his attorney who met on the evening of Oct. 14, less than 24 hours after the fire, with Riverside Public Safety Director Matthew Buckley in response to a number of tenants confronting him that evening at his Riverside office. 

According to a Riverside police report, about 4:45 p.m. that day, approximately 20 tenants descended on Property Rental Inc.’s office at 28 East Ave., demanding security deposits and October rent from Kafka, who was present at the time.

Buckley spoke to Kafka and his attorney at the scene, according to the police report, and the two agreed to talk to each tenant individually to get their information and what they were asking for.

The building’s management company was supposed to contact those tenants again on Oct. 17.

Boblick told the Landmark that some tenants told her they’d been offered smaller apartments for higher rents in other building owned by the management company.

“Everyone I talked to doesn’t want to go back to the same landlord,” Boblick said.