UPDATED 09/12/11 6:23 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — An extra-alarm fire burned for more than three hours on Monday at a Polish bakery on Milwaukee Avenue in the Avondale neighborhood.
The Fire Department called a still-and-box alarm around 9:20 a.m. for the fire at the Pasieka Bakery, 3056 N. Milwaukee Ave., according to Fire Media Affairs. The fire was upgraded to a 2-11 alarm just before 10 a.m., prompting the dispatch of additional firefighters and equipment.
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The fire was struck out about 12:45 p.m. It gutted the bakery, but no injuries were reported.
Still, to say the stubborn, smokey fire destroyed a Polish bakery only tells part of the story.
“It’s terrible today,” said neighbor Maria Wjocik as she looked at the smokey scene.
The emotions visible in the faces of neighbors really told the rest of the story.
“You could say the heart of Polish Chicago is in the Polish Village, and the heart of the Polish Village is up in flames,” said Dan Pogorselski as he gestured at the stretch of Milwaukee Avenue that runs through Avondale.
Pasieka Bakery, an institution in Avondale since the Great Depression, has been gutted.
“It’s like a small part of history in this area for polish people,” said Irek Baran, owner of Andy’s Deli across the street.
Its two-story side mural, which once served as a gateway to the Polish Village, is most likely a total loss, firefighters said.
It’s not uncommon to hear Polish spoken on this stretch of Milwaukee Avenue, or see the late Polish Pope’s picture staring back from storefronts. But Pasieka’s top-rate polish pastries and breads made it a gathering place.
“Not only Polish but Mexican, Puerto Rican, American,” said Wajocik.
At first, crews made an agressive attack on the fire, but the building’s age had them eventually pulling out for safety to let it burn.
The fire started in the basement of the bakery, firefighters said. Apartments are located above the bakery. The fire spread vertically throughout the structure and became difficult to fight as flames ripped through the walls and heavy smoke permeated the building.
Pasieka Bakery dated back to the Great Depression. Its two-story side mural once served as a gateway to the Polish Village, where the native language can be heard regularly and where the late Pope’s picture stares back from storefronts.
Initially, firefighters had to fight the blaze defensively from the outside, but by 11 a.m., they were able to extend ladders to the roof of the neighboring building, and cut ventilation holes in the roof of the burning structure to get water down.
The Pasieka Bakery is lauded on Yelp.com for its paczkis – the popular Fat Tuesday pastry – which Yelpers say cost 85 cents apiece. Another Yelp critic said, “The poppyseed rolls rock my socks.”
Milwaukee was shut down between Belmont and Monticello avenues during the blaze so that crews could fight the fire.