Evanston firefighters responded on March 10 to a fire in the 1500 block of Brummel Street, where they found a man who was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. (Evanston Fire Department photo) Credit: Evanston Fire Department photo

Noxious, heavy black smoke from a basement fire killed an 87-year old Evanston man Thursday when he was unable to evacuate, according to fire department officials.

Kimberly Kull, Evanston Fire Department’s public information officer, said the man’s wife returned home from a shopping trip shortly after noon, heard a fire alarm blaring and saw smoke seeping from the basement of their house in the 1500 block of Brummel Street. Her husband was home at the time of the fire but unable to evacuate “due to smoke/fire conditions,” Kull said in a Friday email.

Fire rescue crews arrived on the scene minutes later in response to an earlier 911 call and learned someone was still inside, Kull said. Crews went in, found the man and brought him outside, where paramedics immediately began to treat him, Kull said. He was taken to a local hospital, where he was later pronounced dead, according to Kull.

His wife also went to the hospital, where she was joined by their son and a chaplain. The family declined assistance from the American Red Cross.

On Thursday, the fire department had said that the man had been shopping with his wife, came home with her and entered the house to investigate after seeing smoke. Authorities’ investigation revealed those details were incorrect, Kull said Friday.

“Most people don’t realize that the danger in a fire is from the smoke more than the fire itself,” Kull said. “The heavy black smoke in a fire contains superheated toxins that can quickly kill. The most important thing that people should remember is if you smell smoke or a fire, get out of the building – even before you call 911.”

Fire officials are investigating but Kull said the fire’s cause has not yet been officially determined. She said the block will remain closed until the investigation is complete and fire officials ask that community members avoid the area until it’s clear.

Due to the extensive damage from smoke, fire and water, it is uncertain whether the house will be inhabitable, Kull said.

Kull said the fire was quickly upgraded to a box alarm to request additional resources from neighboring fire departments.

Three fire lines were deployed to extinguish the fire. Kull described the response as “aggressive and well-coordinated. The fire was out in about 30 minutes, followed by salvage and overhaul.”

Though the smoke detectors in the home were working, Kull stressed the importance of testing their smoke alarms monthly.

“If your smoke alarms require battery exchange, change the batteries twice a year,” she said. “Many people do it during the seasonal clock adjustment where we gain or lose an hour.”

This story has updated to correct details surrounding the fire fatality.

Adina Keeling is a photojournalist and reporter, covering city news, sustainability, schools, and art. She also investigates mental health systems and environmental injustices in Evanston, and puts together...

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