Officials: No criminal intent in Prospect Heights apartment fire

Prospect Heights Fire Chief Drew Smith confirmed Friday that a juvenile who would not be named had accidentally started the fire that caused massive damage to three buildings of the River Trails Condominium complex.

The investigation determined no criminal intent by the juvenile, Smith added.

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And that’s about as much as ever will be disclosed about the cause of the blaze that began in a second-floor unit of 848 McIntosh Ct. about 1:20 p.m. Wednesday, he said.

The hourslong battle was one of the biggest such efforts in the region since the 1985 fire at Arlington International Racecourse in its complexity and level of response, Smith said. Approximately 50 departments and 200 firefighters responded, he added.

Even as the fire was being fought Wednesday, residents were circulating reports of a minor boy who had been playing with a lighter. Officials have neither confirmed nor denied those precise details.

Prospect Heights Police Chief Al Steffen had previously said Thursday that by all indications the fire was an accident.

There was never any doubt about where the fire started, and firefighters had begun to control it in that unit, but flames had already spread to the attic area below the mansard roof that had no fire walls to contain it, Smith said.

The fire ultimately affected four connected buildings of 24 units each, but one building that contained the addresses 866 and 876 Cider Lane was largely undamaged.

Prospect Heights Mayor Nick Helmer said the managers of the Palwaukee Plaza shopping center next door have made available a former Denny’s and former grocery store as drop-off points for donations for displaced residents. He encouraged donors to bring items there if possible, instead of the originally identified drop-off point of city hall at 8 N. Elmhurst Road or the River Trails Condominium management office at 811 Apple Drive.

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