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Massive Bridgeport Fire Leaves Behind An Ice Palace On Ashland

By  Casey Cora and Geoff Ziezulewicz | January 23, 2013 6:22am | Updated on January 23, 2013 11:26am

BRIDGEPORT — The battle to extinguish a massive fire that devastated a vacant Bridgeport warehouse overnight left behind an ice palace on Ashland Avenue.

Chicago's biggest fire in seven years chased nearly a third of the city's on-duty firefighters to the scene at 3757 S. Ashland Ave. One firefighter was injured in the battle. He suffered a minor back injury and was treated and released from a local hospital.

Some 200 firefighters went to the scene, which was elevated to a 5-11 alarm fire with several specials, meaning extra equipment and manpower was needed even after the fire reaching the department's highest alarm classification.

It was the biggest battle since Dec. 6, 2004, when the LaSalle Bank headquarters at 135 S. LaSalle caught fire after an electrical problem.

Tuesday night, with temperatures around 10 degrees, the water pumped to put out the Bridgeport fire quickly froze, leaving behind an ice-coated building. Authorities are still trying to figure out what touched off the blaze. Investigators plan to comb through the wreckage Wednesday, searching for a cause, Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said.

The fire broke out some time after 9 p.m. Tuesday and then “jumped" to another warehouse at 3801 S. Ashland Ave., according to the Chicago Fire Department.

The fire at 3801 S. Ashland Ave. apparently was extinguished quickly, leaving crews to deal with the engulfed four-story warehouse.

Blasting water from the ground level and above the buildings, firefighters soaked the warehouse as flames and smoke billowed high into the night sky. Portions of the northwest corner of the warehouse collapsed.

Even as temperatures hovered near 10 degrees with a bitter wind chill, the blaze drew dozens of onlookers from the nearby McKinley Park neighborhood, just west of Ashland Avenue. Social media postings revealed the fire could be seen from miles away, with smoke drifting toward the Dan Ryan Expy. and hampering visibility.

Dennis Evans, 65, of McKinley Park, said the building was once a manufacturing plant for the Howard Parlor Sofa Co., then became the Harris Marcus Lamp Co.

Fire crews extinguished the five-alarm blaze just after 1 a.m.

The residual effects of the fire were seen Wednesday morning, with street closures surrounding the area from 39th Street to 35th Street and reroutes of nine Ashland CTA buses.