By Kathryn Menue

EDITOR

On Friday, March 10, the unthinkable happened as about 30 people lost their homes due to a 14-unit apartment fire that spread rapidly through the building, located at 819 W. Jackson St. in Belvidere.

The fire began around 9:45 p.m. The fire, which is believed to have started in the southeast corner of the building, grew so quickly covering the hallways with smoke that many people were trapped inside their apartments. To escape the flames and smoke filling the building, many people decided to exit through their windows. Luckily for them, good-samaritans were waiting outside the three-story building to catch the occupants before emergency personnel arrived.

The Belvidere Police Department and the Belvidere Fire Department were on the scene within minutes of receiving multiple 9-1-1 calls. They evacuated the surrounding apartment complexes in the area and pulled people from the burning building. Several of the occupants pulled from the building needed cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

About 10 people were treated at the scene and another 15 were transported to local hospitals by several different ambulance services. These victims suffered from various medical symptoms, most commonly smoke inhalation.

While the Belvidere Fire Department, along with 17 other area fire departments totaling to about 100 firefighters, fought off the flames over a good three hour period, the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, City of Marengo, and Illinois State Police handled service calls and traffic control around the area.

On March 13, at the committee of the whole meeting at City Hall, Chief Hyser addressed the extreme fire and the efforts it took from all of the emergency responders.

“I wouldn’t wish that on any other fire department of our size in our size town,” he said. “What they went through was incredible.”

Boone County Coroner Rebecca Wigget also was dispatched to the apartment complex for a deceased female in her 30s found at the scene after the fire. She was later identified as Melissa D. Darling-Krachumas, a 36-years-old mother of four.

Darling-Krachumas was the only death reported from the fire. Even all of the pets made it out of the apartment complex alive.

According to Coroner Wigget, “The preliminary results from a forensic autopsy performed on March 13, show the preliminary cause of death to be from smoke inhalation.”

Her death remains under investigation at the Boone County Coroner’s office.

The American Red Cross responded to the scene to assist these people with food, drinks, clothing, blankets, and temporary lodging.

Other people and organizations throughout the community and beyond quickly responded to the needs of the fire victims by collecting needed supplies on Saturday, March 11.

The Boone County Fire Women’s Auxiliary collected donations of clothes and other necessity items at the Boone County Fire Protection Station, located at 1777 Henry Luckow Lane in Belvidere. The auxiliary received an abundance of donations and are no longer looking for items.

However, monetary donations are still being accepted and can be sent to the Boone County Community Foundation at 600 S. State St. in Belvidere. For more information, call (815) 544-7231.

In the meantime, First Step Day Care, located at 620 Logan Ave. in Belvidere, will be open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. throughout the rest of the month for families affected by the fire to pick up food and hygiene items.

Plus, the Community Action Agency of Boone and Winnebago County will act as the clearinghouse for information and resources.

For more information about this program, contact Jennifer Jaeger at (779) 348-7565 or Chris Greenwood at (779) 348-7569.

People from surrounding communities are interested in helping as well.

Retired Lake Geneva firefighter, Ed Breitonfeld, of Harvard, Ill., is on a mission, along with his wife Karen, to help the families affected by Friday’s fire.

He said the fire hits close to home since he has been through situations like this in his line of work, and he has a connection to the deceased woman.

“We feel sad when there’s kids involved,” Breitonfeld said. “Now, we want to help these people.”

Breitonfeld is trying to encourage people to help store the families’ items, since they have nowhere to store their salvaged belongings.

He also is encouraging people to donate to causes such as the Go Fund Me page started for Darling-Krachumas’ family to help pay for funeral costs. Donations can be made at: https://www.gofundme.com/melissa-funeral.

As the families affected try to move on from the fire with the assistance of the community, the State Fire Marshall along with the Illinois State Police will investigate the crime scene to see if they can come up with answers for the families as to what caused the fire in the first place.

The Belvidere Police Department encourages anyone having information pertaining to the incident to contact the Belvidere Police Department at (815) 544-2135 or Crime Stoppers at (815) 547-7867.

Information that leads to an arrest or conviction can be subject to a cash reward.

For updates on the investigation and other area news, Like the Belvidere Police Department on Facebook.