WHITING | Firefighters worked to eliminate hot spots Monday in a downtown Whiting building that caught fire Sunday night, displacing residents and closing a portion of 119th Street.
The building at the corner of Sheridan Avenue and 119th Street housed Lubia's Dresses and Events shop on the first floor and seven apartments, said Steve Ruzich, the building's owner, as he surveyed the damage Monday.
A tenant called Ruzich, of Munster, on Sunday alerting him to the fire, and he immediately drove to the blaze. He said approximately 17 people lived in the apartments. No one was injured in the fire.
“They lost everything. Everything is gone as you can see,” Ruzich said. “The back apartments some of them are still OK, but I don't think they're going to be able to salvage anything from there.”
While the fire is out, a “pancake effect” was created when the roof and floors of the three-story building collapsed, so there's still ember and fire below the debris that firefighters can't get to, said Whiting Fire Chief Gus Danielides.
“They can create a little tent,” Danielides said, “and we can't get in there and that stuff just burns ... all we can do is saturate. We're trying to drown it.”
The cause of the fire was undetermined as of Monday. Ruzich, who has owned the 1906-era building for 15 years, said a city inspector told him the building wasn't salvageable.
Displaced residents were initially taken to the Whiting Community Center on Sunday night, where they received help from the North Township trustee's office and the American Red Cross.
The township provided temporary housing at a nearby hotel for six families and will help them find permanent shelter, said North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan.
Donations were being collected for residents Monday at the Whiting Elks Lodge, where a steady stream of community members dropped off clothing items, food and monetary donations. The donations drive was spearheaded by students at St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Whiting.
Kymberli Janek, of Whiting, said she dropped off donations because she knows personally the loss after a house fire. Janek's home in Whiting burned down in 1997, she said. On Monday, she recalled the outpouring of community support.
“I had two babies, two dogs, my husband ... literally we had nothing but the clothes on our backs with two babies,” Janek said. “By the time the firetrucks left, I had bags of clothes, a diaper bag, bottles for the babies. They were so worried about everything.”