Three firefighters were injured Friday battling a smoky, extra-alarm blaze at a retail complex that gutted half a dozen businesses and damaged several others in the Irving Park neighborhood.
The fire started just after 12 p.m. in the 3500 block of West Irving Park Road, near Elston Avenue, according to Fire Media Affairs. While the cause of the fire was still under investigation, it is believed to have originated within Irving Plaza Cleaners, 3536 W. Irving Park.
Firefighters battled the blaze for over four hours, during which the roof collapsed.
“We did have three firefighter injuries, and that was from what we think was a smoke explosion,” said Assistant Deputy Fire Commissioner Mark Nielsen, speaking with reporters at the scene shortly before the fire was extinguished, around 4:30 p.m. He said the three were taken to a hospital with minor injuries.
“One firefighter had some burns, but we don’t think they were significant. They were walking around talking and joking, so I’m not too concerned about it,” Nielsen said.
Hordes of residents flocked to the site throughout the afternoon to watch firefighters, as the blaze required a 4th alarm at about 3 p.m. Firefighters could only battle the fire from outside once it was determined that the roof was bowstring truss design, constructed of heavy timber, Nielsen said.
“Bowstring trusses are notorious for killing firefighters. Essentially, we got a lumberyard above our heads. So we take extreme caution, and we started fighting this fire from the outside,” he said. “We did the best we could. I didn’t want to jeopardize firefighters being inside that structure with hand lines, so we pulled them out.”
The building held several businesses, including the Drake Quick Mart, a Black Tie Formal Wear shop, and the Chicago Public Library’s Independence Branch.
“I was in the store and started to smell a little smoke. … I went out to the back alley and that’s when I saw the gentleman from the dry cleaner,” said Joey Pollizze, manager of the Black Tie shop, which had to ship reserved formalwear for at least 10 weddings to its Lincoln Park location for pick-up.
“He was coughing, having a hard time breathing,” Pollizze said. “The fire was very intense, just unbelievable. It looked like they had it contained for a while and then it just got worse. Everybody got out safely. That’s far and away the most important thing here. Businesses can be rebuilt.”
The library and a couple of businesses to the west of the dry cleaner suffered smoke and water damage, but were saved when firefighters stopped flames from moving west. However, five to six businesses to the east, including Pollizze’s shop, were consumed, fire officials said.
The fire, a couple of miles east of the Kennedy Expressway, snarled rush-hour traffic as vehicles were detoured off Irving Park.
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) was at the scene, pledging help.
“My prayers are with the affected small business owners, the Irving Park residents who have suffered smoke damage to their homes, and the three firefighters injured while battling the fire,” Ramirez-Rosa said.