Despite an extra-alarm fire tearing through the roof of the Blommer Chocolate Company’s River West factory, its familiar scent of cocoa that so often wafts downtown was conspicuously absent Tuesday afternoon.
“It usually depends on when the batches go in, or what they’re making during that shift,” said Margaret Sofio, Blommer’s “chief people officer.”
Sofio was among a throng of employees and curious gawkers huddled across the street from the factory at 600 W. Kinzie St. as dozens of firefighters cycled through the building.
An hour earlier, heavy black smoke and flames were shooting out of a room on the northern portion of the factory’s roof when crews were called at 1:44 p.m., Chicago Fire Department District Chief Tim Walsh said.
The fire was upgraded to a 2-11 blaze, bringing in 160 firefighters and paramedics to the scene, Walsh said. They used three ladder trucks to get to the top of the factory and douse flames that scorched the west face of the building, sending out billowing clouds of steam and smoke.
The fire was extinguished within an hour. About 200 people inside the factory evacuated safely, Walsh said. No one was hurt.
“We’re all accounted for, which is excellent, and now we’re waiting to hear the next step,” said Kathy Kull, Blommer’s corporate human resources director.
Workers were later sent home, and second-shift employees were being told to stay home, Sofio said.
“We were prepared for this,” floor worker Lee Ginns said. “We have fire drills all the time.”
Tuesday’s fire was the second at Blommer in two weeks. A smaller fire broke out at Blommer on Nov. 3 in a chocolate kiln on the opposite side of the roof.
“Two separate incidents,” said Walsh, who was at the scene of the Nov. 3 fire as well. “Just happens to be two fires in a short amount of time at this building.”
Fire investigators said it appeared to be some sort of mechanical fire.
“This building is full of machines for roasting cocoa and making chocolate,” Walsh said.
The exact cause is under investigation.