Chicago Fire Department

Owners of West Town pallet firm assess damage after massive fire: ‘Looked like a war scene'

The fire sent giant plumes of black smoke into the air, visible for miles

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Commercial Pallet was closed for the day when workers at a neighboring business noticed a fire growing in the corner of the West Town lot on Tuesday.

Within an hour, the blaze at 2029 W. Hubbard St. was upgraded to a four-alarm fire, destroying nearly everything at the site.

The business was started in 1978 by Les Hagan, 82, after he lost his job as a truck driver.

He was naturally a savvy businessman, his daughter Donna Hagan said, and decided to open a pallet company.

Her brother Tim and their dad were partners for years.

But when Tim Hagan died unexpectedly in 2011, Tim’s son Quinn took his father’s spot. Tim Hagan’s friend, John Peterson, came on board to help.

The company is still owned by Les Hagan. He lives in Florida during the winters, but he is still very hands on at the business, Donna Hagan told the Sun-Times on Wednesday.

Touring the site on Wednesday with her father was “devastating,” she said.

“When we got there, we were three blocks away and there was all this black debris,” she said. “As we drove into it, it looked like a war scene. There was debris everywhere, and black smoke and ash.”

A business that rents space on the lot called Quinn Hagan when workers noticed the fire. He wasn’t in the city, but by the time he got to the West Town location the fire had “erupted,” Donna Hagan told the Sun-Times.

“There’s 20,000 dry wood pallets in a lot,” she said. “It was 95 degrees and it was windy. It just took off and then it hit all the tractors, trucks and trailers and hit the building.”

Everything at the business — inventory, machinery, equipment, vehicles — was “a total loss,” in the fire, Donna Hagan said.

The fire is still under investigation by the Chicago Fire Department, she said.

Les Hagan is still in shock over the fire. But his greatest concern was that the other tenants on the lot were safe, his daughter said.

“No one was there, which is great,” she said. “The fire department was able to keep it at bay so it didn’t even touch our tenants in the parking lot. My dad was worried about his other people.”

There’s another building on the lot that the family owns and may move into, she said. But the loss is still “heartbreaking.”

“This business means everything to us,” Donna Hagan said.

The Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications said the fire damaged a nearby train track. Metra’s Union Pacific West, Milwaukee District West, Milwaukee North and North Central Service lines were stopped due to the damage, the agency said. All rail service was restored by 8 p.m.

Chicago fire crews remained at the site throughout the night to make sure flames didn’t reignite. There was a small rekindle, but firefighters cleared the scene early Wednesday morning, officials said.

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