By Rosemary Regina Sobol and Liam Ford
5:50 PM CST, January 25, 2013
Investigators today determined the blaze that gutted a nearly 100-year-old Bridgeport warehouse began when someone started a fire -- but while police are investigating, the determination does not mean the fire was an arson.
The Office of Fire Investigations conclusion came as crews began demolishing the warehouse at 3757 S. Ashland Ave., gutted by the largest fire to hit the city in seven years.
“The Office of Fire Investigation has determined the cause of the 5-11 Fire on Ashland to be open flame ignition of available combustibles,’’ said Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.
“In layman’s terms, that means something that was burning such as a flame or match got near something that would burn,’’ Langford said.
Langford said the building had no gas or electric service and no one was known to be living there. But the night of the blaze, Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago told reporters that in the past, firefighters had been called to the warehouse for small fires caused when squatters lit fires to stay warm.
The matter has been forwarded to the Chicago Police Bomb and Arson unit to determine if the fire involved foul play, Langford and police said.
This morning, a private wrecking company hired by the owners of the building began its demolition, Chicago Fire Department spokeswoman Meg Ahlheim said. Ladder trucks and other fire equipment remained on the scene, pouring water on hot spots as they sprang up, she said.
Tuesday night, a Fire Department battalion chief spotted smoke from the blaze as he drove past around 9 p.m. A third of the department's on-duty personnel were called to fight the fire, fed by century-old support timbers. Crews have remained there since, dousing flames from the smouldering debris.
The owner of the building, North Development Inc. of Elmhurst, applied for the demolition permit, citing the emergency nature of the work to forego the normal 10-day waiting period, according to Buildings Department spokeswoman Susan Massel.
Such exemptions are allowed when a building has become structurally unsound, she said. The work is being done by Ground Crew Inc. of Naperville.
Records show the owner of the building is 3737 Ashland LLC, which is controlled by North Development. North Development’s president, Calvin Boender, is in federal prison for bribing former 29th Ward Ald. Isaac “Ike” Carothers.
City officials had sued the owners of the warehouse in 2011 for leaving the vacant building open and dangerous, seeking to demolish it. But the owners registered it as a vacant building and corrected code violations.
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