Warehouse Fire "Looked Like Hell On The Next Block"

Crews will begin demolishing structure on Thursday

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Remnants of an abandoned south side warehouse continued to smolder on Wednesday, nearly 24 hours after the structure went up in flames. Charlie Wojciechowski reports.

    The fire that lit up Chicago skies Tuesday night and consumed a third of the city's fire department continued to smolder Wednesday afternoon.

    "We know that we still have buried debris that's burning. The hose lines are not capable of getting at it," said Dep. Fire Commissioner John McNicholas.

    With temperatures hovering around 10 degrees, bundled up firefighters poured water on hotspots within the frozen facade of the abandoned Bridgeport warehouse at 37th Street and Ashland Avenue.

    The fire, an official said, was the largest Chicago had seen in seven years.

    "It looked like hell was on the next block," neighbor Jaime Lamus said.

    More than 200 firefighters turned out beginning around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday to battle the massive five-alarm fire that engulfed the warehouse and spread to at least one other building.

    The building, portions of which collapsed under the heat and flames, was considered a loss and will be torn down.

    The firefighting effort created another hazard: massive amounts of ice on Ashland Avenue. Snow plows repeatedly salted the roadway in an attempt to keep the area safe.

    A battalion chief who happened to be driving by the boarded-up warehouse first spotted smoke coming from the vacant building around 9 p.m. Tuesday and called it in to authorities. The fire was quickly elevated to five alarms, which typically calls about 30 percent of the entire city's firefighting equipment to a single location.

    "Totally coincidence," Commissioner Jose Santiago said. "He thought he saw smoke, turned back around, then he got out of the vehicle, went inside to take a look and said, 'I've got a fire back here. Give me a full response."

    "I couldn't believe it," neighbor Jesse Macias said. "It looked like the sun was out, that's how bright it was. Very orange bright. It was scary but I'm glad the fire department did their job."

    The warehouse was formerly the Harris Marcus Group Building, a lamp manufacturer that once employed hundreds on Chicago's South Side.

    "When I was 17, 18 years old I worked there painting lamps," Lamus said.

    "The owner basically left it to the ravages of time," business owner Randy Smith said. "People have taken the pipe out of it, the wires out of it. We've had small fires here before."

    Smith said he's been worried about a major fire here since the warehouse was abandoned 10 years ago. His flag manufacturing business is next door, now damaged by the fire

    To prevent more damage, including a possible collapse onto Ashland Avenue, fire officials say the old warehouse at 3757 South Ashland will have to be torn down

    "When you saw the fire and the infrared heat it was putting off, it was just melting the windows," Smith said. "The fact that the fire department saved this place, we're really grateful. That's all I can say."