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Irving Park Blaze Sounded 'Like a Firecracker,' Neighbor Says

By Patty Wetli | March 10, 2014 5:27pm
 An early-morning fire gutted the Total Finance building and left neighbors without power.
Irving Park Total Finance Fire
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IRVING PARK — An early-morning fire gutted a building, left neighbors without gas or electricity and led to the closure of Irving Park Road.

The extra-alarm blaze gutted the Total Finance building at 2917 W. Irving Park Road, causing the structure's roof to collapse. No one was hurt in the blaze.

"I was sleeping when suddenly, I smelled smoke," said Dheeraj Upadhayay, who lives in a condo across the street from Total Finance.

From his third-floor balcony, Upadhayay shot video from a bird's-eye view of the fire-fighting effort and the blaze's aftermath.

"It was noisy, like a firecracker," he said of the building as it burned.

Though Total Finance was widely reported as an auto repair shop, Upadhayay and other neighbors confirmed it was the financing office for Car Outlet auto dealers.

Irving Park Total Finance Fire
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Dheeraj Upadhayay

Nearly 100 firefighters and paramedics responded to the alarm at 3:21 a.m. The fire was largely extinguished by 5:38 a.m., althought a crew remained on site mid-afternoon, as smoke from the smoldering structure created a lingering haze.

Fire officials said the cause of the blaze was still under investigation as of 5 p.m.

Guadalupe Salgado, who has lived above the beauty salon just two doors down from Total Finance for the past 28 years, said she was awakened by firefighters at 2:30 a.m. Monday and told to evacuate.

"Oh yes," she said when asked if she had feared the fire would spread to her home. "I saw the flames going up out of the building."

Though her apartment survived unscathed, she was without electricity and gas as of mid-afternoon.

Business owners likewise wondered when the stretch of Irving Park Road would reopen to autos and pedestrians. Cars were moving westbound on the thoroughfare, but the eastbound stretch between Francisco and Richmond avenues remained closed. The sidewalk, littered with glass and debris, was marked with yellow "do not cross" tape.

Lyndi and Derick Bartlett, owners of High 5 Resale Shoppe at 2903 W. Irving Park Road, learned about the fire via Facebook and immediately headed to their store, which is normally closed on Mondays, to assess any damage.

"It's totally smoky, it's really smelly," said Lyndi Bartlett, who lives with her husband just a half mile away.

The couple propped the shop's front door open to air out the space, with Monday's mild temperatures proving cooperative for a change.

The fire is yet another obstacle encountered by the fledgling entrepreneurs since opening High 5 in September 2013.

"We had a month or two of decent weather and then the winter from hell hit," said Lyndi. "Luckily we're also online."

Contributing: Erica Demarast