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'Overwhelming' Fire Devastates Wrigleyville Businesses

By  Alex Parker  and Josh McGhee | October 25, 2013 5:30pm | Updated on October 26, 2013 12:37am

 Crews are battling the two-alarm fire in the heart of Wrigleyville.
Extra-Alarm Fire Devastates Wrigleyville Businesses
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WRIGLEYVILLE — Fire crews spent more than two hours battling a fire that overtook a Wrigleyville building occupied by several businesses as it spewed smoke that could be seen from the Loop.

The fire, at 3330 N. Clark St., erupted in a building that is shared by a bar, Roadhouse 66, Thai Classic and Samah, a hookah bar, located just south of the "L" tracks that straddle Roscoe Street.

Fire department spokesman Mark Nielsen said the blaze began in Samah and was called in by Roadhouse 66 just before 5 p.m. Investigators are working to identify the cause of the fire, he said.

After the fire was declared struck out, ambulances rushed to the scene shortly before 9 pm. after part of the building collapsed leaving firefighters trapped. All firefighters were rescued safely from the building, and there were no injuries, fire officials said.

Wrigleyville fire explosion
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Windward Boards/Facebook

After the blaze was extinguished, Nielsen commended his staff for preventing the it from damaging more buildings.

"The fact that the building to the south… this big three-and-a-half story frame is still there is amazing," Nielsen said.

"When I pulled up to see the amount of fire and the amount of smoke that was involved in this fire, I thought for sure we were going to lose a couple of buildings. Probably three, maybe four and we got the resources here to stop that," Nielsen said. "I can't say enough good about the firefighters and their efforts to save that frame."

No one was injured in the fire, he said.

Lee Larkins, an employee of Windward Board shop recorded the inferno - and a subsequent explosion that knocked at least two firefighters on their backs - from the corner of Buckingham Place and Clark Street, across the street from the hookah bar.

"I ran out and there was smoke coming out of the hookah lounge. Eventually more and more smoke came out. There was probably at least four fire trucks that came out and eventually more smoke started coming out the back," said Larkins, 28. "They worked their way into the front throwing chairs out against the front window of the lounge. They were just trying to put it out."

Moments later, the explosion rocked the neighborhood.

"I guess there was a pocket [of smoke] in there or something, and a backdraft happened. It just shot out flames and smoke," Larkins said. "There were two firefighters on the ground that got the full whiff of it, but everyone ran in, grabbed them and pulled them out."

Larkins said he saw another man panic as the fire was still growing. The man screamed for firefighters to save his dog left in the apartment next door to the blaze.

"Firefighters got in there and made sure everything was OK, but they also got the dog and gave it to the guy," Larkins said.

Catherine Hall, a dog walker, was walking to the "L" when she saw what was originally a small fire.

"When I got here, there were about three [fire] trucks, and they were just trying to get in and see what was going on," she said. "There was a big explosion that came out of the hookah bar. It's been building and building with these overwhelming flames."

She said she saw a man standing in a window on the second floor of the adjacent building.

"Hopefully he got out OK," she said.

Fire crews were called to the two-alarm fire at about 5 p.m. It was upgraded to a three-alarm fire about 5:45 p.m., and was declared under control about 7 p.m. Fire crews, however, continued to douse hot spots from ladders further into the evening.

Stacey Bridges, who lives near the scene, said the scent of smoke was so strong he originally believed one of his neighbors homes was on fire. He followed the thick smoke through an alley to a scene that reminded him of a fire that damaged his home two years ago.

"I saw a woman from one of the stores and she was sitting on on the curbs crying. I felt bad because I know what it's like to lose everything you own," said Bridges, 45. "That smell you never forget, It stays with you forever."