“Isn’t that wonderful? At least they’re warm and they’re safe,” said Salvation Army spokeswoman Jacqueline Rachev.
The 70 people had set up tents and spent the night in a makeshift camp on Roosevelt Road near the Dan Ryan Expressway. By 6 a.m. Wednesday, the temperature had sunk to minus 22 with a wind chill of 49 degrees below zero.
But on Wednesday afternoon, one of about 100 donated propane tanks the group was using exploded, according to Rachev.
The incident caused a hazardous materials response by the Chicago Fire Department, but no one was injured, said department Chief Walter Schroeder.
“We responded to a fire,” Schroeder said. “When we got there, the fire was extinguished and they found all these propane cylinders. That’s when we escalated it to a Level I Hazmat.”
The chief understood the act of kindness to help those in need, but urged against the use of the tanks.
“There was a significant amount of propane there, and with that many cylinders, that’s like a bomb going off,” Schroeder said.
The city immediately notified Rachev, who began preparations for those in the makeshift camp to move to the Salvation Army’s warming center, 825 N. Christiana Ave.
Then, about an hour later, the city called again and informed them of the gesture.
Only one man decided not to take them up on the offer, and he has checked into the warming center on Christiana, known as the Freedom Center.
Rachev was not sure of the identity of the good Samaritan and only knew the hotel was on the city’s South Side.
“All the folks there, some wonderful citizen is going to put all of them up at a hotel for the rest of the week,” she said.
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