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Largest fire in ‘many years’ destroys South Side warehouse

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Updated: January 23, 2013 9:55AM

Firefighters continued to pour water Wednesday morning onto an abandoned South Side warehouse that needed roughly one-third of the city’s total firefighting power to help.

Sheets of ice glazed the building in the 3700 block of south Ashland, with smoke still pouring out of the windows after the five-alarm fire.

“We haven’t had a fire this big in many years,” Fire Media Affairs Director Larry Langford said late Tuesday, as the blaze raged.

One firefighter suffered a minor back injury and was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

The fire was contained about 11:45 p.m., officials said.

On Wednesday, Carmen Rodriguez watched the water cannons douse remaining hot spots and remembered when the warehouse still bustled with workers making chairs.

Rodriguez worked on the second floor of the building from 1989 to 1991, touching up the paint on chairs.

“Unbelievable. Very unbelievable,” she said. “It’s the worst fire I’ve seen.”

The “extreme” fire was so extensive, emergency crews called two more special alarms, sending more than 170 firefighters to the scene, officials said.

Langford said he could not recall a blaze requiring that much manpower since the December 2004 blaze in the 100 block of South LaSalle.

On Tuesday night, flames were “out of control” on all floors in the abandoned warehouse where the fire began, but crews were gaining control of the fire by 11:15 p.m., according to the Fire Department.

The roof and three walls of the 200-foot by 200-foot structure collapsed as crews fought the flames. By Wednesday morning, the remaining walls looked unsteady. The fire jumped to another building in the 3800 block of S. Ashland Ave., but firefighters halted the blaze from consuming that building.

“We took that out right away,” Langford said.

“If this had gotten any bigger we would have called suburban firefighters to cover some fire houses,” he added.

“It’s turning into a big ice cube now,” said Langford.

A firefighter who happened to be driving by the boarded-up warehouse first spotted smoke coming from the vacant building and called it in to authorities, who responded just after 9 p.m., officials said.

The fire was particularly difficult in 10-degree temperatures.

“This would be what’s called a ‘heavy timber building’,” Langford said. He was unable to say who owned the building, which apparently had been boarded up for years.

Luis Lopes, 25, spent the night “mesmerized” by the spectacle of the fire.

“I went in for an hour, drank some coffee, came right back.” he said Wednesday morning. “I’ve never seen nothing like this.”

As the fire raged, a worried Jose Medina ran out to the small children’s park across from the warehouse.

Medina, 40, owns Medina Construction and feared the fire would destroy the playground he helped build.

“The fire just kept going and going,” he said.

The playground was spared.

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