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Cars Plunge From Rooftop in Flea Market Fire, Merchants 'Lost Everything'

By  Paul Biasco Alex Nitkin and Kelly Bauer | March 8, 2016 10:05am | Updated on March 8, 2016 2:48pm

 Fire crews battle a 4-11 fire at a flea market in West Humboldt Park on March 8, 2016. 
West Humboldt Park Flea Market Fire
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WEST HUMBOLDT PARK — An extra-alarm fire in a West Humboldt Park flea market trapped people inside Tuesday morning and caused cars parked on its rooftop deck to plunge into the building as the roof slowly collapsed.

Buyers Flea Market, at 4545 W. Division St., caught fire Tuesday morning. As the fire quickly worsened, the Chicago Fire Department ordered all of its personnel to leave the building. Firefighters rescued a woman who had been trapped inside a bathroom, but she declined treatment and no other injuries were reported, Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said.

Cars parked on the rooftop began to plunge inside as the fire destroyed the one-story, two-block-long building. Seven cars fell from the roof, and some were completely destroyed. But more than 100 cars were also parked on a lower level, and many of those were also damaged, Langford said.

The situation was upgraded to a four-alarm fire and Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago came to the scene. The fire was so taxing that crews had to bring in water from other neighborhoods to fight it, officials said.

The cause was still unknown, Langford said.

Outside the mall, people cried and hugged each other.

David Rosales said his mom ran a small women's clothing stand, one of hundreds that were open to the public on weekends.

"My mom is really sad," he said. "She lost all of her merchandise."

"Everybody's just shocked," he said. No one knows how to take it."

Vendors gathered outside and wondered about their next steps.

Julie Rodriguez, who operated a stand selling babies' clothing, said it wasn't clear whether the merchandise was insured.

"I had $25,000 worth of merchandise in there," she said, weeping. "Now it's all gone. We have nothing left."

The market had 11 aisles and 15-20 shops per aisle, Rodriguez said. In total, she said, nearly 4,000 vendors occasionally set up shops inside the market.

"Those shops fed more than 500 families," she said. "They all lost the food on their tables."

Jorge Aguillon, an employee at Black Swan Manufacturing, an industrial materials factory at 4540 W. Thomas St., which is next door to flea market, said they noticed the fire at 9:40 a.m.

"We smelled something burning, and then immediately we started seeing people running out of the building," he said. "It's scary. We couldn't tell what was going on."

Factory owner Jeffrey Lichten said his "employees started noticing smoke coming through the walls." They called 911 and the factory was evacuated. 

"There's no damage to our building from what I could tell, but there are a lot of flammable materials inside, so that's obviously a big concern," Lichton said. "I'm just hoping it doesn't spread onto our property."

Jesus Barraza, 25, who lives nearby, said the flea market sells everything — including food, clothes and electronics.

"It's a busy spot, it's a pretty famous place a lot of people know about it," he said. "I thought it was crazy, a lot of people are going to lose their jobs.

"This was the spot for a lot of people. Where are they going to go now?"

According to city building records, the flea market failed a 2014 inspection that found broken concrete in various parts of the building, including the parking lot. "Failed to grade and drain surface to prevent accumulation of stagnant water," city records read. " Parking lot — broken concrete, with potholes."

The online records don't indicate what steps were taken to fix the violations, but a permit was issued in 2012 to make "repairs to an existing parking ramp per architects plans."

Fire crews were battling an extra-alarm blaze at Buyer's Flea Market Tuesday. (Photo: Chicago Fire Department)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Schell.

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