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Chicago high-rise fire injures 37
Fire burns Monday on the 29th floor of a Chicago building.
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Chicago fire prompts a massive rescue operation.
Chicago (Illinois)

CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- A fire in a downtown high-rise building injured 37 people, a Chicago Fire Department spokesman said late Monday.

The fire in the LaSalle Bank building in Chicago's Loop started around 6:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. ET) on the building's 29th floor, authorities said. The blaze spread to the building's 30th floor before it was extinguished. Its cause remained unknown.

Twenty-two firefighters were among those injured, and four of them were in serious condition, Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said. Most injuries were the result of smoke inhalation, he said.

"There is heavy smoke throughout the building," Langford said as fire crews battled the flames. "We have no specific reports of people trapped, but we are doing a floor-by-floor search of the building."

Jim Rubens, who was working on the 36th floor, said fire crews reached his group and told them to exit down a stairwell in the smoke-filled building.

"All the floors are filled with smoke," Rubens told local reporters, his face and mustache smeared with soot. "The smoke was coming in from the vents."

He said he went down the stairwell with 12 people, with everyone trying to stay as low as possible covering their mouths: "At one point, it was almost impossible to breathe, and they just kept screaming, 'Keep going, keep going.' And everybody kept going."

He said some of his friends remained on the 35th floor.

The fire started on the 29th floor and spread horizontally across it. Video from the scene showed bright orange flames raging through at least 11 windows, which were blown out and belching smoke.

Bank employee Paul Sawyer said workers on the lower floors were told to leave about 10 minutes after the first alarms went off.

Tom Lia of the city's fire sprinkler advisory board told CNN affiliate WLS that the building was not outfitted with fire sprinklers. The building is equipped with a pump system to allow firefighters to get enough water to upper floors to fight fires, he said.

Dozens of police, fire and other emergency crews raced to the scene, cordoning off the streets around the building. Some emergency personnel checked rooms in the lower floors for people who might still be inside.

The 45-story art deco building was completed in 1934, and houses bank and law offices. It was built on the site of one of the world's first skyscrapers, the Home Insurance Building, which was destroyed so the LaSalle building could be built.

The fire comes a little more than a year after a blaze on the 12th floor of the Cook County administration building, which killed six people who had been trapped in a stairwell. (Full story)

An independent report found numerous problems contributed to the deaths, including a lack of automatic sprinklers and ineffective search-and-rescue operations by Chicago firefighters.

City officials put several measures in place after that fire, including setting up a rapid-ascent team to deal with high-rise blazes.

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