A man found dead in a garage after a series of arson fires early Friday in the Heart of Chicago neighborhood has been identified as 59-year-old Venancio Veracruz Benitez, who lived on the block.
The fires were all set about 3 a.m. Friday, according to Chicago Police. There were “seven total fires, all starting in garbage cans or combustibles near garage walls,” Fire Media Director Larry Langford said.
Benitez, a mexican immigrant, was found unresponsive in a garage that was set on fire in the 2100 block of West 21st Street, according to Fire Media Affairs and the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
Benitez was pronounced dead at the scene at 3:34 a.m., according to the medical examiner’s office. An autopsy did not rule on cause and and manner of death pending further studies, but police classified the death as a homicide.
The other fires were reported in homes in the 2200 block of South Blue Island; and garages in the 1700 block of West 21st Street, the 2100 block of South Wood, and the 1800 block of West 21st Street, according to police.
The two-alarm fire at 2272 S. Blue Island spread to the back porch of a home and an adjoining building, leaving 39 people displaced, according to Fire Media.
No residents were injured in that blaze or the other garage fires, but one firefighter suffered minor injuries, Langford said.
Paul Foertsch, a Chicago Fire Department District Chief, told reporters the fires were all initially set in alley garbage cans but eventually spread to garages and homes.
He added that about 100 firefighters from across the city responded to the area.
The Chicago Police Bomb and Arson Unit is investigating.
“All the fires are suspected arsons,” Langford said. Investigators are “looking for possible video.”