It broke out just before 1 a.m. in the 44-story building at 260 East Chestnut, northeast of downtown Chicago.
At least 12 people, including five of the hundreds of firefighters that helped battle the flames, were injured.
One-third of Chicago's fire crews helped fight the flames and evacuate the building. Some residents fled to the roof.
There were still several firefighters on the scene five hours later, but the fire was under control two hours after it began.
The fire started in Apartment 3601, which is also the unit where the victim, a woman, according to firefighters, died. No one else was in the unit where the fire started. Firefighters say there was no chance of saving the woman who died.
Eighteen ambulances also responded to the emergency.
The five firefighters hurt in the blaze received minor injuries - burns and smoke inhalation - and were being treated at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. The other seven injured are residents. One of those residents is said to be in critical condition at Illinois Masonic Hospital. The rest are in fair to good condition.
Dozens of people had to evacuate that building. Some of them did on their own in the middle of the night, which happens to be the coldest of the season so far.
The Chicago Fire Department said they directly helped 40 people from the upper floors evacuate the building, and people were having trouble getting down on their own because of heavy smoke in the stairwells. A handful of people also had to be evacuated from the rooftop. There were also maybe about 200 people that self evacuated, and they have been spending the morning at a building across the street and at a nearby warming bus.
"It doesn't feel cold," said Larry Braskamp, resident. "The adrenaline is going, I think is what it is, just from the - not the excitement, but just all of the trauma that goes with it."
"We heard the sirens outside, so we looked outside the front window. And we saw that it was in front of our building," said resident Karen McNeal.
Many residents that self evacuated have been allowed back into their units. However, it's unclear when the residents on the higher floors above the 36th floor where the fire happened will be able to return to their apartments. There were reportedly ten people evacuated from the 36th floor itself. A member of the board of directors of the building said they have already reserved 40 hotel rooms at two different hotels.
This is not the first fire in that building. Back in January 2002, a woman died when she got trapped in her apartment by the fire. Eight firefighters suffered serious injuries battling the fire back then. It is believed that careless smoking caused that fire.