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Smoke from Massive Warehouse Fire Worries McKinley Park Neighbors

By Casey Cora | January 29, 2013 9:53am

MCKINLEY PARK — Nearly a week after flames erupted in a vacant warehouse in the 3700 block of South Ashland Avenue, a smoldering pile of debris continues burning brightly and sending choking smoke into the air in the wake of Chicago's biggest blaze in seven years.

And neighbors are fearful about what it might mean for their health.

"It's been horrible. Horrible," said Anne Kaminski, 48, a lifelong McKinley Park resident, of the impacts of the late Tuesday, Jan. 22, fire, which drew 200 firefighters to battle the inferno through the night and following days.

"Is it safe to breathe? I don't know."

Kaminski said the smoke has penetrated the brand-new windows and doors of her home on 37th Place, just a few doors west of the warehouse.

A spokesman from the city's Department of Public Health said common effects from smoke such as minor irritation don't require a doctor's visit, but noted that anyone experiencing serious symptoms or an aggravation of previous conditions should seek immediate medical attention.

According to the Illinois Environmental Protection's air quality index website, the air in the city is classified as safe.

But Jim Ross, manager of the Illinois EPA's Air Pollution division, said nearby residents should stay indoors as much as possible and run the furnace or even an air-conditioner, as both devices have purification systems that could help clean the air inside a home.

"The number one piece of advice that we give is to keep doors and windows closed as much as possible," he said.

But many neighbors say it's too late for that.

The smoke, which billowed into the sky and was easily visible from the Loop and Stevenson Expressway on Monday, has blown into their homes for days on end, leaving their living rooms, bedrooms and clothes smelling like acrid smoke, residents said.

Maria Rios, 20, said the smoky smell has been constant since the fire started late Tuesday. She said she's "gotten used to it by now."

Dave Katz, 33, lives a few blocks west at 37th Street and South Honore Avenue. He stopped by the apocalyptic scene Monday to see the burning remains of the hollowed-out building.

He was relieved to see the smoke rising up, then slowly blowing east.

"It's blowing toward Bridgeport, thank God," he said.