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Fatal blaze leaves fire department reeling

The scene blaze where two Chicago firefighters lost their lives Wednesday. (Brian Jackson/Sun-Times)

The scene of the blaze where two Chicago firefighters lost their lives on Wednesday. (Brian Jackson/Sun-Times)

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Updated: May 17, 2012 2:58PM

Mourners set up a memorial Thursday at the site where two Chicago firefighters were killed as authorities considered what legal action, if any, they could take against the owner of the abandoned laundry that collapsed on the men and their fellow firefighters.

Meanwhile, five of the 17 firefighters who were injured in Wednesday’s blaze and building collapse remained hospitalized.

“We just came to pay our respects to where those heroes lost their lives,” Tanisha Weatherley, 53, said standing next to her 13-year-old son and the growing number of flowers and cards laid out at 1744 E. 75th. “It is the most tragic thing you ever want to imagine.”

Sam Hassell, 28, who has been trying to join the fire department, said: “The brotherhood these guys share is really deep. The way [a firefighter friend] has been acting, you really understand they are a family.”

The building where Edward Stringer and Corey Ankum lost their lives Wednesday has a history of code violations, and the owner, Chuck Dai, has been sued by the city at least three times since 1987.

Officials are reviewing all legal options, including seeking maximum fines for uncorrected violations and filing civil or criminal contempt of court charges for violating a court order, City Law Department spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle said Thursday.

Larry Langford, the Fire Department spokesman, said it was too early to say whether the five firefighters who remained hospitalized would be back at home for Christmas.

“The most serious was stable yesterday and is still stable,” Langford said. “The rest are even better.”

While the injured firefighters were recovering from the physical trauma, the entire department was reeling from the experience, the worst loss of life in more than a decade.

“The day after, it’s starting to really sink in,” Langford said. “It’s a hard pill to take.”

Steven Ellerson, one of the four firefighters trapped under the massive pile of rubble after the roof fell, was released Wednesday evening from Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, his brother Maurice Matthews said.

Matthews said his brother and their entire family were overwhelmed and appreciated the many calls and well-wishes.

“We feel like we could have been planning for a funeral today,” Matthews said. “Our hearts and prayers go out to the other families.”

Ellerson’s eyesight improved after doctors flushed his eyes and his back is sore, Matthews said.

“He kind of wants to rest for a while,” he said. Corey Ankum “was his very close friend, and it’s kind of difficult to talk about.”

Contributing: Frank Main

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