Fire and Ice: South Side warehouse may take days to extinguish

January 23, 2013

 

Updated: 1:30 p.m.

It will take several days for a fire in an abandoned South Side warehouse to be totally extinguished.

Across the street a deluge unit is shooting 4,000 gallons of water a minute onto the massive Bridgeport structure, which has turned into an ice-caked building that looks like it was dipped in frost. Located in an industrial district at 37th and Ashland, the edifice is a surreal site slicked in ice. Smoke billows from atop.

“For safety reasons we have to stay back a little bit so we can’t get right to the scene of the fire but we have it contained, it’s not going to go anywhere. But it is a dangerous time. ... We have the firefighters as far back as we can,” said Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Jose Santiago Thursday morning.

The fire erupted on Tuesday evening and rekindled on Thursday. Currently, 40 firefighters are on the scene, down from 170 when the fire first erupted.  One firefighter suffered a minor injury.

Santiago said the cause of the fire is unknown and conditions aren’t safe yet to enter the building. Inside, there were many early collapses. Below-zero temperatures have made putting out the fire difficult. A crane will knock down part of the warehouse on Friday, Santiago said. This is the largest fire the city has seen in years.

Chicago has a plethora of vacant buildings — residential and commercial, which can cause safety concerns.

“We’re always concerned about vacant structures like this. We always want to get the word out there you have to keep them closed. We do have some people who may not have a place to stay and they sometimes go into these structures, start small fires to go ahead and warm themselves,” Santiago said.

The fire commissioner said the CFD works with the city building department on structurally-unsound buildings. A red “x” is displayed on the building so first responders know it could be a danger.

Onlookers braved frosty temperatures to get a look at the still-smoldering, ice-encrusted warehouse at 3757 S. Ashland Ave. in the city’s Bridgeport neighborhood on Wednesday.

Fire Department spokesperson Larry Langford said the building will be demolished once all the fires inside are extinguished.

“It’s turning into an ice castle,” Langford said in a phone interview, describing the building as “something from bombed-out Europe.”

“I’ve never seen this sight before. Wow, holy cow, seems like something worth photographing [...] Very surreal,” said Tom Vasilj, who described himself as a video editor and amateur photographer.

First Deputy Fire Commissioner Charles Stewart III says frigid temperatures made the fire more difficult to handle.

The Chicago Transit Authority brought in warming buses so that firefighters could seek relief from the cold. City crews also are working to salt the roads around the building to help deal with the build-up of ice.

The vacant warehouse is located in a section of Chicago called the Central Manufacturing District. It’s one of the city’s first office parks, according to Lee Bey, WBEZ contributor and Executive Director of the Chicago Central Area Committee.

“The Central Manufacturing District that was once so bustling it had its own police force and its own transportation inside of it and now none of that is there, obviously,” Bey said.

Many companies moved their businesses away from the area for the suburbs near the middle of the 20th century.

Scott Kanowsky contributed to this report.