Laptop Eyed as Cause of Chicago Fire

A new laptop that was charging may be to blame for a fire inside a Lakeview apartment with no working smoke detectors early Monday.

A still-and-box alarm was called for the building at 535 W. Briar Place at 2:46 a.m. and was struck out at 3:08 a.m., according to a Fire Department dispatcher. As of 4:15 a.m., police reported no street closures due to the emergency, according to a Town Hall District police captain.

"Everything's up and running,'' the captain said.

A couch caught fire in apartment 557 in the back of the top floor of a five-story, brick apartment building that is of a "considerable size," according to fire media affairs Director Larry Langford.

Two men visiting from out of the country had been charging a new laptop computer -- about two or three days old -- near the couch. The Office of Fire Investigations believes the computer, or its battery, may have overheated and caught fire, Langford said.

The two men did not smoke and there were no other apparent sources of heat. The laptop was plugged into a power strip that was plugged into a wall, Langford said.

The fire was contained to one apartment unit, which sustained "heavy damage." The fire burned a hole through the roof of the apartment and firefighters "got lucky" extinguishing the fire, Langford said.

"It was a good stop by the firemen, it could have spread and gotten nasty," Langford said.

One person who used their hand to break the glass around a fire extinguisher in a hallway was treated at the scene, but nobody else was injured, Langford said.

Fire crews sifted through debris to find smoke detectors, but none were found. The two men said there were smoke detectors, but the batteries were not working, Langford said.

The residents of the building said they did not hear an alarm, but were able to "self evacuate." Fire crews found the buildings residence standing outside in the cold when they arrived, were they remained until the fire was extinguished, Langford said.

All residents were allowed to return to their units, except for the two men, who made other housing arrangements.

The two were worried their passports and visas might have burned, but they were all intact, Langford said.

Copyright 2007, Chicago Sun-Times Inc.