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‘Elite’ federal team to help in flea market fire investigation

Heaps of ruined merchandise and debris remained at Buyers Flea Market on the West Side after a massive fire there Tuesday. / Stefano Esposito for the Sun-Times

The Chicago Fire Department has called in an “elite” federal team to help investigate the massive blaze that gutted a West Side flea market earlier this week.

“Our Office of Fire Investigation has limited resources and the sheer size — a 300-by-600-foot building — surpasses the manpower the Chicago Fire Department has available to work the scene,” First Deputy Fire Commissioner Richard Ford II told reporters Friday.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ National Response Team brings with it heavy equipment and a mobile lab that can process evidence at the scene of the Tuesday fire, Ford said. It’s the first time the city has sought the help of the ATF team, Ford said.

The team will be a big help, as investigators sift through the charred remains of 100 cars, and an assortment of merchandise at Buyers Flea Market, 4545 W. Division, investigators said.

Chicago Police are also part of the investigation, Ford said.

“We have no preconceived notions or suspicions as to this fire,” Ford said. “We need to examine the evidence to narrow our range of possibilities as the cause.”

Investigators described the fire to the popular flea market as one of “enormous proportions,” which brought a total of 180 firefighters and paramedics to the scene and, at its height, involved more than 60 pieces of fire equipment.

There were no reports of injuries.