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Fatal High-Rise Fire on Chestnut in Chicago Kills Beata Bihl, Injures 12

Thu December 10 2009 8:02 pm
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ABC7 Chicago video and report of the fire at The Plaza on DeWitt at 260 East Chestnut Street in Chicago.

An early morning high-rise fire at the Plaza on DeWitt, just a block from the lake shore, was reported about 12:50 a.m. Thursday. Resident Beata Bihl of a 36th-floor apartment was found dead in the front of her apartment. Twelve injuries were reported as a result of the fire. Five firefighters were injured and seven residents were injured — one resident was transported to Illinois Masonic Hospital in critical condition.

View Chicagoland Major Fires & Rescues in a larger map
Looking west on Chestnut Street from Lake Shore Drive: The Plaza on DeWitt is the building with the white lattice (travertine) shown at right between black building (foreground) and John Hancock building (background) on the right.

Upon arrival to a report of an early morning high-rise fire, Engine 98 reported ‘nothing showing’ but firefighters were advised immediately by Chicago Fire Department dispatch that in addition to the activated fire alarm, people were calling in reports of smoke on floors 36, 39 and that an alarm had also activated on the 44th floor — the top floor. Firefighters reported thick black smoke in hallways and stairwells within minutes after they arrived and climbed to the stairwell.

Responding units were given their assignments — Battalion 3 was assigned the ‘High-Rise Chief’ and Battalion 5 was assigned the ‘Fire Attack Chief.’ Squad One was the first unit to report black smoke and immediately call for ‘a Box’ — the first level of an extra-alarm fire. A staging area was set up at Chicago and Lake Shore Drive. Shortly after Box request, Main fire dispatch relayed to Command 2-7-1 that three people were in need of rescue — reported to be evacuated onto the roof of the high-rise where smoke was surrounding them after rising from the fire on the 36th floor.

Battalion 2 was assigned the “Plans Chief.’ Battalion 12 was assigned the ‘RIT Chief.’ RIT stands for ‘Rapid Intervention Team’ — team of firefighters that is dedicated to the response and rescue of trapped, injured or endangered firefighters.

The fire eventually jumped from the 36th floor to the 37th floor. Fire was blowing out of windows on the 36th floor at the worst of the fire. Glass and debris fell to the street, while firefighters were fighting the fire, which took two hours and 300 firefighters’ efforts to get under control.

The evacuation stairwell was the East Stairwell and the ‘Fire Attack’ stairwell was the West Stairwell. Fire Department attention early on was to check the occupants of Apartment 3602. Other apartment units were also given special attention, presumably from 9-1-1 calls to the fire department. Fire ‘Main’ dispatch also relayed a report of ‘smoke pouring into 4105.’

The fire was upgraded to a 3-11 extra alarm shortly after the call of smoke pouring in 4105. Fire ‘Main’ dispatch and 2-7-1 command confirmed with each other a list of calls for help from apartments.

Difficulty breathing was called in at apartment 4101. People in one apartment on the 36th floor reported they had retreated into a closet. A call for a rescue also included a request from a caregiver and a 105 year-old.

Heavy black smoke conditions were reported on the East Stairwell, which was the evacuation stairwell. Wind direction was from the West at 15 mph to 20 mph from 12:30 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. Thursday.

Later a 4-11 extra alarm and an EMS Plan 2 was requested. Three air masks trucks were requested to the scene. The first reported patients transported. All three people on the roof were rescued. Later in the fire, the East evacuation stairwell had light smoke conditions, while the west stairwell still had heavy smoke conditions.

People were also evacuated from a residential building at 247 East Chestnut. The culmination of the extra alarm was the request of a 5-11 alarm with one special, and an EMS Plan 3. Two additional Advanced Life Support (ALS) fire engines were requested to the scene.

A primary search was reported underway from the 38th to the 51st floor, about the time the fire was reported struck out. records show that The Plaza on DeWitt has 43 floors above ground.

Fire communications audio Part 1 (left) & Part 2 (right).
(Courtesy of

View Chicagoland Major Fires & Rescues in a larger map

Video of highrise fire from about one block away (

More info …
The Plaza on DeWitt (official site) … The Plaza on DeWitt (250 East Chestnut Street) …


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