Mather Lifeways officials say its likely to be Thursday before about 80 residents of the Georgian in downton Evanston are able to return to their apartments in the building.

Fire Chief Alan Berkowsky says when firefighters arrived at the Georgian about 10 a.m. Tuesday they found the basement filled with smoke and one of the main Commonwealth Edison electrical supply cables on fire inside a vault.

They managed to put out the flames with a dry chemical fire extinguisher and ventilated the basement to clear the smoke, Berkowsky said.

There was no danger to the residents, the chief said, but ComEd workers determined they wouldn’t be able to restore full electrical service without turning off all power to the building. And firefighters who went to the building’s roof discovered that the electrical problem had caused motors on the building’s elevators to start arcing.

So, he said, about 4 p.m., with the power turned off, the decision was made to evacuate the building.

Berkowsky said two dozen Evanston firefighters carried more than 30 residents down the building’s stairwells on rescue chairs, while about 10 city police officers were stationed on landings to assist residents who were able to walk down on their own. No injuries were reported in the fire or the 90-minute evacuation.

Mather spokesman Stuart Greenblatt says power has now been restored to the building but that Mather workers want to take time to be certain all the building’s facilities are working property before letting people return.

Greenblatt said some residents stayed with family overnight and others were moved either to other Mather facilities or to the Hilton Garden Inn in Evanston.

He said the incident was not connected to work currently underway across the street from the site at Hinman Avenue and Davis Street to construct a new Mather building.

Once that building is completed, Mather plans in 2009 to replace the 1920’s-vintage Georgian with another new continuing care retirement facility.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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