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Massive 5-11 ALARM Warehouse Fire
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Image by Kevin Gebhardt
Photos by Kevin Gebhardt
Shot from minutes after the Box alarm call at 1:43 am to the fire being struck out at 9:30am.

By Peter Nickeas
Tribune reporter
9:42 a.m. CDT, September 30, 2012

An extra-alarm fire on the Northwest Side early Sunday morning destroyed much of a four-story brick building and brought more than 200 firefighters and paramedics to the scene, according to the Chicago Fire Department.

Crews battled the 5-11 alarm blaze in the 2600 block of West Nelson Street in the Avondale neighborhood for hours until it was finally struck out about 9:30 a.m. Some crews are expected to stay on the scene for much fo the rest of the day.

It’s not clear what caused the fire, which started before 2 a.m. and had spread through the top three floors of the multi-use building and caused the north wall and some of the floors to collapse.The blaze also prompted a hazardous material response.

Thick black smoke from the building cast a haze over the neighborhood as the plume drifted south.

Firefighters wedged in between neighboring buildings and the wall predicted its collapse and were warned over fire department radios that it could happen.

When it did, firefighters atop a ladder near a west corner of the building yelled to a dozen firefighters below to watch for the power lines, which shook violently but didn’t fall when the brick wall came crashing down.

Fire engines and trucks, along with different types of support vehicles, lined Elston and Belmont avenues and many of the side streets adjacent to the burning building, one of the tallest in a neighborhood of frame homes and commercial buildings.

As of about 8:30 a.m., nobody was injured, according to the fire department. Chicago police blocked traffic to local streets. Flames continued to jump through the roof of the building, even as firefighters lobbed streams of water from different sides.

Onlookers poured out of their homes, sat on porches and walked slowly toward the fire to get a closer look.

"We came out at three – at first I couldn’t figure out why the street was closed, we just heard a lot of noise," said Nancy Cervantes, who stood with her 9-year-old grandaughter outside the scene.

"She’s never up this early," Cervantes said of her granddaughter Narissa, who alternated between concentrated attention to the fire and jogging back and forth across a parking lot. "I woke her up so she could see this … to see how firemen and policemen all work together, with the table set up (with refreshments) and the gurney (with supplies)."
Twitter: @peternickeas

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