Chicago Police Department officials suspect arson caused the fire that burned for hours on January 22 in the vacant factory at 3757 S. Ashland Ave. in the Bridgeport community. Police officers are investigating the blaze.
Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said the department classified the fire as category 5-11, with two special alarms caused by open flame ignition of combustibles.
â€œSomething was burning, such as a match, and it came close to something that would burn,â€ Langford said. â€œIt appears to be started by the human hand.â€
Whether the fire was set intentionally still must be determined.
â€œThe fire department used one third of all available equipment, and nearly 200 firefighters surrounded the fire,â€ said Langford.
â€œThe fire took days to extinguish, but tackling the main body of the fire took four to five hours.â€
After firefighters sprayed water on the fire, close to six inches of ice coated the building, with nearly a foot of ice surrounding it on the ground.
Langford said firefighters had to contend with the fireâ€™s immense magnitude after it spread to a nearby building as well as freezing temperatures. In addition, the fire re-ignited in the early morning of Jan. 24 after firefighters thought they had extinguished it.
â€œWhen it is that cold outside, you have to deal with equipment lines freezing, which makes it hard to maneuver,â€ Langford said.
â€œFirefighters have a hard time holding tools, and even their outfits begin to freeze.â€
One firefighter suffered a minor injury after he slipped on ice.
Firefighters had to bring in â€œBig Mo,â€ the departmentâ€™s diesel water cannon, to help put out the fire. â€œBig Mo allows us to connect several hoses into one hole and park it across the street to shoot water into areas that were hard to get to,â€ Langford said. â€œThere was a fear that the building would collapse; therefore having Big Mo on the other side of the street allowed us to reach the fire without risk.â€
Big Mo can pump nearly five thousand gallons of water per minute. In the days following the fire, the Chicago Transit Authority had to reroute many buses, including the heavily used Ashland Avenue buses. AT&T workers came to the area for several days after the fire to repair damaged telephone lines.
The Advertising Flag Company at 3801 S. Ashland Ave. had to close for a few days to repair damage to its building.
A local fruit and poultry market located next to the factory was forced to shut down for several days because the City had to close nearby streets while workers demolished the factory. Chicago Police turned out in force following the fire, directing traffic and blocking off streets.
A company that had been headed by Calvin Boender owns the factory and its site. Boender has been in federal prison since 2010 after he was charged with bribing former Alderman Issac Carothers.
A demolition crew began tearing down the factory on Jan. 25. â€œAs of now, we can say that this is an active, ongoing investigation being conducted by the Chicago Police Bomb and Arson Detective Unit,â€ said officer Jose Estrada of the Chicago Police.
Chris Jelenewicz, engine program manager with the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, said major cities with old buildings need to take further steps to ensure these structuresâ€™ safety. Jelenewicz, who served as a volunteer firefighter for 20 years near Washington D.C., said technology changes constantly, providing new ways to protect old and vacant buildings.
â€œThe Fire Protection Engineers always look at ways to decrease the damage caused by a fire or prevent a fire altogether,â€ said Jelenewicz.
â€œThere are fire suppression systems such as automatic sprinklers and fire walls that would protect against such a disaster,â€ he said. â€œThese systems should have been installed in the factory.â€
Whether a building is empty or occupied, firefighters face dangers when going in to tackle a blaze.