A strip mall fire sparked by roofers sent flames shooting 75 feet into the air and sparked several explosions, but Chicago firefighters said the blaze could have actually been much worse.
The fire started Friday afternoon when roofers were working above the For Eyes optical shop with propane torches. The roof caught fire and the blaze spread quickly, moving to the nearby stores Mid-American Furniture and American Mattress.
Firefighters responded to the strip mall fire by dousing flames and using a "trench-cutting" technique that was able to halt the fire before it reached other buildings.
"The fire was stopped before it turned the corner of the strip mall," said Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford. "One end of the strip mall was saved, the other end is going to be a total loss."
During the battle to bring the strip mall fire under control, firefighters heard several loud booms.
"We believe those were propane tanks left on the building by the workers (on the roof)," said deputy fire commissioner Michael Callahan. "One of them may have been, and I haven't confirmed this, a transformer in the alley."
The fire was reminiscent of a fire at the Seaside Heights boardwalk on the New Jersey shore. An electrical fire that started in a shop spread rapidly through the stores on the wooden boardwalk, prompting a massive response from firefighters. Ultimately the blaze left nearly all of the boardwalk destroyed.
Close to 200 firefighters responded to the Chicago strip mall blaze, and by 6 pm it was considered under control. The damage extended beyond the strip mall itself --- cars parked on a nearby street were nearly underwater after firefighters dumped a steady stream of water onto the fire. Power also had to be cut to several homes in the area.
The strip mall fire caused the roofs of at least two buildings to collapse, but firefighters said there were no injuries reported.