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2 Firefighters Killed, 17 Injured In Chicago Blaze

A firefighter walks away from the scene of a fire at an abandoned building on Chicago's South Side on Wednesday. Two firefighters were killed in the blaze, and more than a dozen others were injured.
A firefighter walks away from the scene of a fire at an abandoned building on Chicago's South Side on Wednesday. Two firefighters were killed in the blaze, and more than a dozen others were injured.

Two firefighters were killed Wednesday battling a three-alarm fire in an abandoned building on Chicago's South Side. At least 17 others were hurt.

The men who died were among four firefighters buried in debris when the building's roof and one wall collapsed.

The injured included firefighters who rushed in to rescue their trapped colleagues, fire department spokesman Larry Langford said. Four of those hurt suffered critical injuries, but all are expected to survive, he said.

Neighbors said squatters and homeless people often went into the single-story brick building to seek shelter from the cold. That's why close to a dozen firefighters initially responded to the fire, officials said. While they were inside searching for possible victims, the roof and wall collapsed.

More than 100 firefighters responded to the mayday call and dug out their trapped colleagues, who were rushed to hospitals.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Chicago Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff said the firefighters at the scene "did the best they could to save their brothers.''

Tom Ryan, the firefighters' union chief, said families could take solace knowing the men are heroes.

"No matter how much experience you have on the job, a morning like this still takes you by surprise," he said.

The tragedy comes on the 100th anniversary of the deadliest fire in the Chicago Fire Department's history: Twenty-one firefighters were killed in the Union Stockyards fire on Dec. 22, 1910. That had been the most deadly day for any big city professional fire department in U.S. history until Sept. 11, 2001.

Langford said the cause of the fire was uncertain, but that it was possible that squatters living in the building had been burning debris inside to keep warm.

"The fire had no other way of starting,'' he said.

NPR's David Schaper contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press

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NPR Staff and Wires