- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2003

CHICAGO (AP) — Investigators suspect the deadly fire in a 35-story government office building was started by malfunctioning light fixtures, officials said yesterday.

An electrical engineer was hired to test the fixtures, wires and switches in the 12th-floor storage room where the fire began Friday and killed six persons.

The results may not be available for up to two weeks, said Tom Ahern, spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Though no cause has been determined, officials have said they do not suspect arson.

Investigators began considering the light fixtures after interviewing employees of the Secretary of State’s Office, who said they first spotted flames near the ceiling in their supply room on the 12th floor of the Cook County administration building.

“It could be an electrical fire, but that’s not certain,” said Sgt. John Escalante of the Chicago police’s bomb and arson unit.

“Theoretically, because it was a supply room, we’re still trying to verify where stuff was stored. Were supplies possibly stacked up to the very point of the light? The heat generated from the light fixtures could also have lighted the fire.”

The fire started around 5 p.m. Friday. Smoke filled the downtown tower’s two stairwells as people followed an announcement to evacuate.

After the blaze was brought under control an hour later, firefighters found about a dozen persons unconscious in a stairwell and on the 22nd floor. Six were dead.

Eight persons remained hospitalized yesterday, some in serious or critical condition.

According to the Cook County Office of the Medical Examiner, the dead include Teresa Zajac, 51; Felice Lichaw, 51; and Janet Grant, 47, an attorney for the Cook County Forest Preserve District and the daughter of one-time Jet magazine Executive Editor Robert Johnson.

Three Cook County Public Guardian employees also died: Maureen McDonald, 57, who worked with the state’s elderly wards; Sara White Chapman, 38, a lawyer; and John Slater III, 39, who represented children in divorce cases.

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