Authorities say Chicago police are investigating an extra-alarm fire that completely decimated a Black Hebrew temple on Monday night on the South Side in the Grand Crossing neighborhood.
According to the Chicago Tribune, no one was injured in the 2-11 alarm fire that started at the House of Isreal Temple of Faith at 7130 S. South Chicago Ave. and spread to at least two second-story apartments above it – Chicago Fire Department Officials said.
A senior citizen was rescued by firefighters along with one other person from the second story, paramedics treated the elderly woman on the scene according to Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.
The other person saved was Cande Watkins, 35, who said she has multiple sclerosis.
“They dragged me out,” Watkins said to the Tribune, “I inhaled a bit of smoke. … I’m not going to let this get me down because I am an eternal optimist.”
With her husband, Ronald, 53, and their son Trevor, 6, Watkins lived in the apartment for about 11 years. The family was warming up about a block away inside the Grand Crossing District police station at 7040 S. Cottage Grove Ave.
American Red Cross responders tended to the family, giving them potato chips and granola bars while arranging temporary lodging for them. Ronald said he scooped Trevor up and carried him down the smoke-filled stairs and told firefighters outside that his wife needed help getting out.
Ronald says he was watching TV when he started smelling something strange. When he went to open a back door to check, he saw thick, black smoke in a stairwell. Ronald then ran to wake up Trevor.
“It’s a blessing because it could have gone the other way,” Watkins said to the news outlet.
The grim reality of the Watkinses losing all their possession hadn’t quite hit yet but they felt lucky as the fire did not take anything irreplaceable.
“When you put material stuff above lives, that’s when you can get killed,” Ronald Watkins said to the Tribune.
Firefighters responded a little before 9 p.m. and struck out the fire about 10:30 p.m., Langford said.
“The building is probably going to be a total loss,” he said to the Tribune, “The roof is in and the walls are somewhat unstable.”
According to the temple’s website, the temple dates back to 1965 when its first iteration was founded. There are several sects of Black Hebrew but generally, the group practices Judaism or Zionism and is considered a religious community of African descent.