CAHOKIA HEIGHTS, Ill. – One person is dead, and many others had to be rescued after a five-alarm fire at a senior apartment building in Cahokia Heights. The person killed in this fire has been identified as 82-year-old Judy St. John. On Thursday morning, many residents were still displaced from the complex as investigators searched for the cause of the fire.
The Red Cross is now operating a shelter for the displaced occupants at the Cahokia Heights Fitness and Community Center on Camp Jackson Road. Authorities told FOX 2 that there are currently 20 people staying at the shelter; the other residents who were forced from their apartments due to the fire went with family or friends.
Firefighters got the call at the ‘Touchette Elderly Apartments’ on Bond Avenue in Cahokia Heights around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. Camp Jackson Fire Chief Chris Davis says that when his crews got to the scene just a couple of minutes after the fire call, they were met with heavy smoke coming from the second floor of the building.
The fire quickly grew to five alarms, with more than 40 firefighters from 12 departments responding. Davis shared that more than 50 residents were rescued. Tragically, one resident did die, and five others were treated at the scene.
Davis added that the resident who died was a woman who went into cardiac arrest. We’re told crews started CPR and took her to Touchette Regional Hospital, which is very close to the facility, but she did not survive. Investigators explained that the fire actually started in the second-floor unit of the woman who died.
FOX 2 spoke with a resident of the building who was on the 3rd floor when the fire started. 72-year-old Willie Merritt revealed that her caretaker helped get her out under terrifying circumstances.
“There was smoke in the hall enough to make your eyes water,” Merritt said. “And coming down the stairs, there was smoke all the way from the third floor to the first floor, and when we got down to the first-floor hall, we were all the way at the end of the building, so we had to come down the hall, where I could hardly see there was so much smoke.”
Authorities told FOX 2 that crews were able to contain the fire in just one apartment, but there is smoke and water damage to much of the building. At this point, there is no timeline for when residents might be able to return to the complex.
The state fire marshal has been called in to help determine the official cause of the fire. FOX 2 will update this story with more information as it becomes available.