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Inside Second City Evacuation: 'Great Afternoon' Until They Saw Smoke

By Joe Ward | August 26, 2015 5:34pm | Updated on August 26, 2015 10:09pm
 Crowds gather in and out of Wells on Wells to watch the raging fire at Second City's offices in Old Town Wednesday afternoon.
Crowds gather in and out of Wells on Wells to watch the raging fire at Second City's offices in Old Town Wednesday afternoon.
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DNAinfo/Joe Ward

OLD TOWN — Wednesday afternoon started out just like any other for Krystyna Zarnecka, who was backstage at Chicago's iconic Second City theater when there were murmurs of something being wrong.

Moments later, she and the rest of the staff and crew knew that the building next door, which houses an Adobo Grill and the Second City offices, was on fire.

"It was a great afternoon, really," said Zarnecka, a maintenance supervisor at Second City for the last five years. "Then they told me they saw smoke."

Indeed, smoke was billowing out the back of the building at 1612 N. Wells St. that would smoke and smolder for hours after Second City evacuated next door around 1 p.m. Fire officials said Wednesday afternoon that two firefighters and one civilian sustained minor, non-life-threatening injuries in the extra-alarm fire.

RELATED: Second City Offices 'Destroyed' In Extra-Alarm Old Town Fire (VIDEO)

Zarnecka said a stage manager paged everyone to leave. At that point, staffers could be seen standing among the crowds along North Wells Street.

"We left the building, then we watched like everyone else, getting out our cellphones and taking photos," she said.

Zarnecka was eating an ice cream cone at the McDonald's across the street from Second City at around 4 p.m., when the fire had been extinguished.

She said she had not heard about the fate of Second City's famed theater location, only that she knew that it surely suffered heavy smoke and water damage. (While fire officials said the offices were destroyed, the theater itself did not catch fire.) Shows scheduled for Wednesday had been canceled.

Directly across from the still-raging fire earlier in the day, a number of patrons of Wells on Wells, 1617 N. Wells, had lunch with a view they surely haven't experienced before. The restaurant's outdoor seating faces Wells and is just feet from the Adobo Grill, where fire officials said a grease fire started in the kitchen, which then went up the building vent and set the rooftop of the more-than-100-year-old building on fire.

Some patrons were still enjoying coffee, trying to see above the amassed crowds standing around them.

Despite the circumstances, the business tried to operate like normal, said co-owner Michael Endrizzi.

"When they started bringing in more and more ladders, we knew it was pretty big," Endrizzi said of the fire crews surrounding his building. "We kinda kept an eye on things, tried to do business as usual."

Except business wasn't as usual. For one, Endrizzi and staff were ushering people from the sidewalk on Wells Street, out through their beer garden and finally out toward Clark Street to the west.

The crowds in front of his business, as well as the fact that the surrounding blocks were cordoned off by police, made business a bit slow this afternoon.

"Nothing you can do about that," Endrizzi said.

But of the customers there on Wednesday, Endrizzi said "they had a good show." 

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