Fires Put Chicago Neighborhood On Edge | WBEZ
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Fires Put Chicago Neighborhood On Edge

Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood is on edge after a series of suspected arson fires early Friday killed a man and displaced 39 people from their homes.

“I’m still scared,” said Manuel Beltrán, a flea-market vendor whose apartment was destroyed in one of the blazes.

Beltrán, 49, lived with his wife and their five children on the first floor of a three-unit apartment in the 2200 block of South Blue Island Avenue. Flames on the back porch woke him up about 3 a.m. He rushed his family outside then tore through a wall to rouse some of his neighbors from sleep.

Hours later, Beltrán’s family looked for a place to stay for a few nights while trying to find another apartment.

“I’m tired right now and I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “I got a big family.”

A city fire marshal said separate blazes ripped through homes in five Pilsen locations. He said the fire department is reviewing surveillance videos and might refer the case to police and federal arson investigators.

Neighborhood residents said they worried that the fires could be the work of a pyromaniac who could strike again or gang members who could provoke recriminations.

Boxing instructor Efraín Torres, 29, looked over the smoldering remains of two buildings.

“We got to keep our eyes open.” Torres said. “We got to protect what’s ours. If someone comes and burns my house down [it would mean] he was planning to take my life. I’m going to mark his life. I’m going to do something that hurts him.”

Torres quickly clarified that he would take on any arsonist using his boxing skills, not a gun.

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMitchell1 and @WBEZoutloud.

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