At 4 P.M. on January 17, 1992, a series of explosions and fires ravaged the River West community. The fires were in an area bounded by the Chicago River, the Kennedy Expressway, and Kinzie and Division Streets. The devastation was caused by over-pressurization in the natural gas pipelines leading to homes and businesses.
Two-hundred and twenty-five fire fighters responded to the emergency. The disaster resulted in 4 fatalities and 18 buildings destroyed or damaged.
Initially the increase in pressure was attributed to a faulty regulator. However, after lengthy investigations, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that a Peoples Gas Company crew was responsible. While doing routine maintenance on gas pressure valves in a vault at Erie and Green Streets, the crew failed to monitor downstream gas pressure. When the regulators were off-line, normal gas pressure of ? PSI soared to at least 10 PSI - 40 times the normal level.
The extreme pressure caused hissing noises in stoves, furnaces, and space heaters. Many individuals shut off their gas service, thereby saving lives and property.
Based on recommendations by the ICC and the NTSB, regulator valves that once controlled entire neighborhoods were replaced by individual regulators at each building. Increased training for gas crews was also initiated.
This marker is mounted at 911 North Willard Street, one of the original buildings damaged by the River West Gas Fires.
Sponsored by the Neighbors of River West, Timothy O'Mahony, and the Illinois State Historical Society