CHICAGO (AP) | As fires go, the one that broke out Wednesday in a small vacant building on the city's South Side was likely to be pretty routine for the Chicago Fire Department.
Instead, it caused the deaths of two firefighters, trapped under debris with two others when a wall and roof collapsed, and injured 17.
In an eerie coincidence, it happened on the 100th anniversary of the Union Stock Yards fire, which killed 21 Chicago firefighters when a wall collapsed and stood as one of the nation's worst tragedies for firefighter deaths until Sept. 11, 2001.
The call about the trapped firefighters interrupted a memorial service Wednesday honoring the Stock Yards fire victims.
"We were ringing the bell and calling out the names. We heard a mayday on the radio that a wall had fallen in," said retired fireman Bill Cosgrove.
Most of the firemen broke down in tears when they found out about the collapse, he said.
"It was beyond disbelief," Mr. Cosgrove said. "It was a matter of a few hours and 100 years later we have the same type of incident."
He said two firemen at the memorial left to help rescue the trapped firefighters. Other off-duty firefighters rushed there as well to help dig out their colleagues, said Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.
They joined more than 170 other firefighters on duty who responded to a 911 call about the burning building just before dawn Wednesday, Mr. Langford said.
He said no one expected the call to be anything more than a routine wintertime fire.
Although the one-story building had been vacant for years and the utilities had been turned off, there was some concern that homeless people might be inside trying to stay warm. Firefighters were searching for any squatters when the building's heavy-timbered roof collapsed; Mr. Langford said a wall also collapsed.
The cause of the fire was under investigation. Authorities speculated that squatters might have been burning debris to keep warm.
"The fire had no other way of starting," Mr. Langford said.
He said the only people injured were firefighters.
The men killed were Edward Stringer, 47, a 12-year department veteran, and Corey Ankum, 34, who joined the department a little more than a year ago. They and two others were trapped under the roof debris.
Two firefighters were pulled out quickly, but rescuers had to use extrication equipment to reach the other two.
Mayor Richard M. Daley was out of town but issued a statement offering condolences to the victims' families. He was cutting his trip short to return home and address the city.
"Our prayers go out to the families of these two firefighters and to their brothers and sisters in the Chicago Fire Department, who put their lives in danger every day to keep Chicagoans safe," he said.
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