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Family 'Used to Tragedy' Loses Home to Fire Late Tuesday

Oak Lawn Fire Chief George Sheets deemed unlivable a Keeler Avenue home where a fire ignited Tuesday. It was almost a total loss, he said. Thankfully, family members were able to escape with their pet bird in tow.

Fire consumed a home in the 9600 block of South Keeler Avenue late Tuesday evening, sending a family of three and their pet bird fleeing for their lives into the street.

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Homeowner Muhammed Gheith said he was watching TV shortly before 10 p.m. with his wife and 14-year-old son when he heard a noise outside.

“We went outside and nothing was wrong so we came back in,” he said.

About ten minutes later, the noises grew louder “like somebody throwing things,” he continued.

About one year ago, someone broke into the family's basement. Thinking a thief might be in the house, Gheith went downstairs to investigate.

“When I got to the basement, it was loaded with smoke,” he said. “Smoke was all over.”

Gheith’s wife and son ran outside. He went to the upstairs bedroom, which was also filled with smoke and was able to escape. Neighbors were yelling “fire, fire,” when Gheith reached safety outside, he said.

 Chief George Sheets said the first call came through at 9:50 p.m. When units arrived about four minutes later, flames were shooting through the roof.

“It was a significant fire,” Sheets said. “It took about 45 minutes to get it under control.”

About 40 firefighters from Oak Lawn, Crestwood, Bedford Park, Evergreen Park, Burbank and Justice helped battle the blaze. Fire investigators remained on the scene around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“We don’t know what started the fire yet,” Sheets said, adding there was no reason to believe arson was involved.

Sheets described damage to the two-story home as “significant.” Heavy damage could be seen through gaping broken windows; where inside, it appeared that upstairs rooms had been gutted by flames.

“It’s probably going to be almost a total loss, if not a total loss,” the fire chief said. “The fire was free burning for awhile.”

As of 11 p.m., all of the home's occupants and firefighters were accounted for, Sheets said. There were no injuries.

Gheith said his family has lived in their home for a dozen years.

“It’s a beautiful community,” he said. “We have beautiful neighbors.”

The family was able to rescue their cockatiel, Pee Wee, who was taken in out of the cold night air by a neighbor.

Gheith said that he and his family were headed to a local motel.

“Being Palestinian, we are used to tragedy,” he said. “Thank God we are safe. The fire department came in and are doing a great job.”

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Lorraine Swanson June 06, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Mr. Gheith was so gracious. Even in the face of adversity, he told me to have a nice evening. I kept asking him if there was anything Patch could do to help. He is a proud man. He doesn't want "charity" but I will try to call him again today. He was going to take his family to a motel and then look for a rental to see if his home could be salvaged.
Lorraine Swanson June 06, 2012 at 04:29 PM
If anyone has info on a nice rental home or condo, please email me at lorraine.swanson@patch.com. I will pass the information along to Mr. Gheith. I believe his son is going to OLCHS in the fall, so something in D229 would be swell.
JohnEggert June 06, 2012 at 05:43 PM
I remember how devastated my wife was when her store was totally destroyed by fire in 2009, and she would be the first to say it was "just" a business. I can't even begin to imagine how terrible it must be when it's your own home. Lorraine, as mentioned above, please keep posting anything that can be done to help. For a temporary rental, maybe someone could reach out to the owners of the unoccupied condo units at 51st Avenue Station or Prairie Town Center, on Cook Street.
Matthew Howe June 07, 2012 at 01:17 AM
A lot of times the home owners insurance company will find you a place to live until your house is repaired. That is what happened to my great aunt.
Bob June 07, 2012 at 03:28 AM
The main thing is no one was hurt. Things can be replaced a human being can't. Great work to our fire department and the fire departments that assisted them!

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