Glenview Patch Investigates: Mobile Home Fire Reminds Residents of Dangers, Unsafe Conditions
Sunset Village owner continues to defy court order aimed at fire safety.
As Chief Wayne Globerger is well aware, the park’s owner Richard Klarchek has been defying a court order for two years that he upgrade its water system to provide sufficient pressure for fire hoses, among other things.
So, instead of the normal two, the department sent four engines to the scene, each transporting 500 gallons of water to get them started. Then, following a drill Globerger’s men practice at the park twice a month, an axe-carrying firefighter hurried towards a nearby fence to chop a hole. Threading a hose tough the opening, they hooked onto a hydrant in the Valley Lo subdivision some 800 feet away and had the fire out in 15 minutes.
The trailer’s occupant, a 52-year-old woman who fell asleep while smoking, survived with burns and smoke inhalation.
In this instance, Globerger said he doubts the lack of hydrants at the park affected the fire’s outcome because of all the water that was sent to the scene in the extra trucks.
“If there were a fire hydrant across the street, I don’t think it would have made a difference in this case,” he said.
In another lucky break for the firefighters, South Branch is one of the widest streets in the park, Globerger said. Klarcheck has also failed to make several narrow interior streets of the park accessible to fire equipment by installing mountable curbs, as specified in the court order.
But What Happens Next Time?
But the melted vinyl siding on trailer adjacent to the fire is stark evidence of how quickly a fire can spread in a tightly-packed mobile home park, and Sunset Village’s residents worry what will happen next time.
“It’s dangerous,” said Chris Iosello, who has lived in the park since October of 2009. “There are kids and elderly people here; it’s just a matter of time,” he said. “Then everybody will say we could’ve, we should’ve, we would’ve, but then it’s too late.”
The Village of Glenview has been trying to force Klarchek to make improvements to the park since they annexed it in 1990, according to Mary Bak, director of development for the village. Separately, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is suing Klarchek because of elevated radon levels in the drinking water.
Klarchek, who owns several other mobile home parks, sits on the board of Loyola University and, due to a $10 million donation to the school, has a building named after him. He operates Sunset Village under the name Capital First Realty.
He did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment and a phone message left with his secretary at work was not returned.
Klarchek did virtually nothing to satisfy a March 2009 court order that he make several improvements at Sunset Village, according to Glenview attorney Eric Patt. But when Glenview attornies asked a judge to hold him in contempt of court last fall, he filed for bankruptcy. He listed $10 million to $50 million in assets and $50 million to $100 million in debts.
Klarchek’s bankruptcy suspended all pending litigation against him, Patt explained. This is because people who file for bankruptcy are required to ask their creditors for permission to spend money.
Now the Village and Sunset Village’s residents can do little more than wait, Patt said, noting that bankruptcies can take “anywhere between three months to three years.”
But a mid-May court hearing on the lawsuits against Klarchek may bring some resolution, he said.
“My hope is that whatever happens in the bankruptcy and whoever controls the park will abide by the court order and make things better for these residents,” Patt said.
In the meantime, the wooden privacy fence around the park remains punctuated by white reflective stickers emblazoned with red fire hydrants— clues so the next firefighter knows where to chop.
Though he’s comfortable with his elaborate firefighting contingency plans, “that’s not the way you really want to do it, Globerger said.
“The sooner we can get a water supply, the better.”
For a timeline of events, to see a map of Sunset Village and the neighboring communities and to review court documents, please see attached PDFs (above right).
Editor’s Note: Stay tuned to Glenview Patch for continuing coverage of Sunset Village, with a profile of park owner Richard Klarchek, and more broadly, a look at poverty in Glenview.