A destroyed grass and wiped out power to thousands of residents, but no lives or homes were harmed in the blaze. The fire was started by fireworks and quickly consumed about 15 acres of Commonwealth Edison property Sunday afternoon.
Chief Terry Vavra said a resident reported the fire around 1 p.m. Sunday. Buffalo Grove firefighters “responded to what we were treating as a smaller grass fire,” but additional help was soon called in.
“The fire grew very, very quickly,” Vavra said.
Initially categorized as a Code 2 fire, it was upgraded to a 2nd Alarm. “That’s about five steps through the alarm process,” Vavra said. Flames reached 30 feet, according to a report. .
In all, firefighters from 25 departments helped fight the blaze from all sides, using an estimated 300,000 gallons of water, Vavra said.
“It kind of moved around on us,” he said. “That was part of the problem. With the wind and the dry land, it just made it worse.
“Our main focus was protecting the homes around the fire,” he said. “The grass can burn and there’s really not as much loss. “
Vavra said 24 homes were at risk, and some of those residents were evacuated while firefighters worked for four hours to control the fire. Police said the fire came within 15 feet of homes bordering the field on Coventry Lane, Brandywyn Lane and London Court.
“It was close. It definitely had us concerned,” Vavra said.
Also among firefighters’ concerns was the threat of electric poles toppling. None did, but an estimated 2,400 ComEd customers lost power Sunday afternoon when power lines above the field caught fire. Damage to the area was estimated at $150,000.
Vavra said that the outages affected customers as far away as Barrington. ComEd crews responded quickly, he said, and rerouted power lines to help minimize the number and the duration of the outages.
Traffic signals went out and police closed Buffalo Grove Road from Aptakisic Road to Brandywyn Lane, Aptakisic Road between Buffalo Grove Road and Brandywyn Lane, and Brandywyn Lane between Aptakisic Road and Buffalo Grove Road.
“We were very lucky that no people were hurt or homes were damaged as a result of this fire,” Buffalo Grove Sgt. Scott Kristiansen said in a statement. “The fire department personnel did an exceptional job containing the fire.”
Police file charges
Police charged Gabriel R. Horwich, 20, of 424 Cedar Court North, Buffalo Grove, with criminal damage to property by reckless means of a fire — a Class 4 felony. Horwich was charged after an off-duty police officer from Morton Grove saw four people who had allegedly been using illegal fireworks running from the scene around 1 p.m. on Buffalo Grove Road between Aptakisic Road and Brandywyn Lane, according to a police report.
The off-duty officer was visiting relatives in the area when he heard the fireworks and saw people nearby, Buffalo Grove Deputy Police Chief Steve Husak said. He stopped them as they were getting into a car, Husak said.
No other charges are expected, he said. "We determined after talking to them that the one person responsible was the subject who was arrested," Husak said.
Horwich's bail was set Monday at $10,000, according to the Sun-Times.
Firefighters caution residents
Sunday’s blaze is the kind of incident firefighters have feared could spark when fireworks meet dry ground.
Vavra noted that the in June, warning residents of the dangers of using fireworks during a drought.
“Obviously word didn’t get out to these people, but this is the exact situation we saw the potential for happening,” he said.
Sunday's fire was the first one caused by fireworks in Buffalo Grove this summer, but one was recently battled in neighboring Long Grove.
“Any use of illegal fireworks is dangerous," Vavra said. "Use of legal fireworks is dangerous. This was a case where the conditions we’re in right now with the extended drought and the use of illegal fireworks made this situation much worse than it would have been. Anytime fireworks are used like that, the potential is there, if not fire, definitely injury.”
Vavra said officials have not determined what type of fireworks ignited the fire.
He said while he “consider(s) this a win” because firefighters successfully protected the nearby homes, he knows it might not be the only time the department responds to such a situation.
“It could happen again,” he said.