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From the ashes of Rogers Park fire, community support

Following a devastating arson that killed a woman in Rogers Park two weeks ago, several community relief efforts have been successful. | Fire Media Affairs

A fire in a Rogers Park apartment building that led to the death of one woman, and arson charges against another, also has resulted in an outpouring of support for the dozens of now-homeless residents.

That early-June blaze left 34 residents to start over from scratch, and the community responded with money and other much-needed items.

Northside Community Resources, a Rogers Park organization, has been the hub of a neighborhood-wide relief effort, helping residents find new homes and setting up an online donation page that’s raised over $16,000 in more than two weeks.

Chris Zala, executive director at Northside, said despite the goodwill, finding new housing for the displaced people will be the real challenge. Many residents’ paperwork was destroyed in the blaze.

“They’ve lost everything, including their IDs,” Zala said. “So it’s difficult to even apply for certain things without having proper identification.”

Northside and the 49th Ward Alderman’s office are working together to replace that paperwork quickly.

The fire, which started just after daybreak on June 5, gutted the three-story apartment building at 1745 West Touhy Ave. It also took the life of 51-year-old Maria Silva, who jumped from her apartment to escape the flames.

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A GoFundMe campaign for Silva’s family raised more than $5,500 in just one week after the fire — enough to pay for her funeral expenses, according to a statement from Alderman Joe Moore’s (49th) office.

Maribel Ceron Silva, Maria’s daughter, said in this tough time the donations took a small weight off her family.

“My mom has a lot of friends,” Silva said. “But we didn’t expect that [this level of support] would happen.”

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office has charged Margaret Reed, 44, with aggravated arson and first-degree murder after security footage showed her at the scene of the fire just before it started.

Margaret Reed | Chicago Police
Margaret Reed | Chicago Police

“Once we knew [the fire] was intentional we just wanted to know why someone would do it,” said Marisol Palma, a 22-year-old resident who’s been displaced along with her parents.

Palma said her mother woke her and Palma’s father up at 5 a.m. that morning in a panic urging them to get out of the building. She said her mother then began going door to door waking and warning sleeping residents of the fire while Palma called the police.

Palma said her family and she are now staying with her brother on the South Side while they search for a new apartment.

Heartland Cafe on Morse Avenue, Sullivan High School and St. Jerome Catholic Church on Lunt Avenue have been accepting donations of clothing, hygiene items and household items for the affected residents. New Field Primary School has specifically been collecting children’s clothing. Nine of the 34 displaced people are children.

Donated goods at New Field Primary School sit ready to go out to Touhy fire victims. | Courtesy of Conrey Callahan Conrey Callahan, principal of New Field, said she’s been warmed by the outpouring of support.

“Yes we’re a community of need, but we’re also a community that can be counted on,” she said.

R Public House raised about $3,000 for the fire victims at a June 9 event. Owner Renee Labrana said those funds came from raffle tickets, tips from some of the servers, 10 percent of the bar’s total sales that day and the sales from a keg courtesy of Empirical Brew Pub.

“I think it says wonderful things about the neighborhood,” Labrana said.