Officials: Man dies after West Garfield Park blaze

Tribune reporter

A man died following a fire late this morning on the West Side, officials said.

The fire erupted at 10:50 a.m. in the 4000 block of West Van Buren Street, according to Chicago Police Department News Affairs Officer Robert Perez.

The man, 75, identified by his son and the Cook County medical examiner's office as Matthew Nelson, was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital in critical condition after having been found during firefighters' initial search of the residence, then later died, according to the Fire Department's media office. Nelson was declared dead at 12:16 p.m. at the hospital, according to the medical examiner's office.

No smoke detectors were found in the initial search of the building, according to the Fire Department.

The fire started at a single family home located next door to a church, according to Harrison District police Lt. John Andrews.

Police and firefighters got there at the same time and one person was pulled from the building, Andrews said. The victim was found in his living room, with a number of dogs and cats, a fire official on the scene said. No one else was found in the building, the fire official said.

Authorities were alerted to the fire when someone from the church called 911, Andrews said.

Mathew Nelson, who uses a wheelchair to get around, was likely on the second floor of his home when the fire broke out. His three adopted teenage children were at the laundromat with his wife, said his son Larry Nelson.

"They all called me up crying in rage," said Nelson about the three teenagers. "They are totally upset."

Nelson was a retired heavy equipment manager, his son said.

Gloria Thurman, who lives nearby, said she first noticed smoke coming out of the back of the house at around 11:15 a.m. "The smoke was really intense," said Thurman, 69.

She said about four emergency resonders tried to revive Nelson for over a half an hour. "They tried and tried," Thurman said.

New Holy Zion Missionary Baptist Church spokeswoman Lillie Winston said a service was going on when congregants and the pastor of the church, 4026 W. Van Buren St., smelled smoke.

Winston said they know of a man who lives there with several dogs so several church-goers tried to find him.

"They ran over there and tried to knocked the door down," Winston said.

Services were halted and Winston said about 50 congregants were being moved out of the church. The flames did not spread to to their church, she said.

Thurman said Nelson was well known in the neighborhood and would often play blues music on his porch.

"I was really hoping he would make it, but he didn't," she said.

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