SOUTH CHICAGO — The warehouse fire that claimed the life of Chicago firefighter Daniel Capuano was caused by an arc welder that accidentally ignited the building's insulation, Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said Wednesday.
Langford said the fatal fire at the South Chicago warehouse began late Friday, Dec. 11 and smoldered over the weekend. Firefighters arrived at the smoky blaze early Monday, Dec. 14.
"It started while [workers] were finishing up for the day," said Langford, adding that the fire has been ruled an accident.
Capuano, 42, of Mount Greenwood, was searching the building when he plunged two stories down an empty elevator shaft. The 15-year veteran of the fire department left behind a wife, Julie, and three children — Amanda, 16, Andrew, 13, and Nick, 12.
Following the fire, the Department of Buildings responded to the scene and found that "unauthorized work was being performed at the site, including complete removal of the elevator and other structural alterations," department spokeswoman Mimi Simon said.
The city filed an emergency court order to tear down the building in the 9200 block of South Baltimore Avenue. Besides the elevator shaft, inspectors also found "gaping holes" in the floors and roof as well as an electrical system with exposed wiring and other issues, according to the city.
"The interior demolition has created a dangerous and hazardous condition for anyone entering the property," according to the city's report of the building.
Shortly after the fatal fire, Langford said Capuano "did not have a chance." He cited the unauthorized work in the building as well as lack of any sort of barrier around the open elevator shaft.
"All we can say is if there had been a barrier in place, the fireman probably would not have fallen in the hole because they're feeling for things like that in the smoke," Langford said. "But there was no barrier."
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