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Roofers Blamed For Extra-Alarm Fire That Destroys Strip Mall

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An airline passenger took a picture of the West Rogers Park fire while in the air. (courtesy: Jake Ryan)

An airline passenger took a picture of the West Rogers Park fire while in the air. (courtesy: Jake Ryan)

(CBS) — Firefighters on Friday evening battled an extra-alarm fire at a West Rogers Park strip mall — a massive blaze authorities blamed on roofers using propane torches.

Firefighters remained on the scene Saturday morning as several hot spots rekindled.

The roofers were working above the For Eyes optical shop, where the fire was first reported at about 4 p.m. Within minutes, the fire was rolling, engulfing two other stores, Mid-America Furniture and American Mattress, and collapsing the roof above them at 3106 W. Peterson Ave.

Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said it could have been worse. A fire wall and “trench-cutting” techniques firefighters used stopped the blaze from taking the entire development.

“The fire was stopped before it turned the corner of the strip mall,” he said. “One end of the strip mall was saved, the other end is going to be a total loss.”

Video from the scene showed massive, rolling flames shooting up to 75 feet from the top of the commercial structure. There also were a few explosions — possibly transformers going up.

The fire department went into “defensive” mode by surrounding the blaze and shooting water onto it, with no attempt to enter. By 5:30 p.m., the blaze was a four-alarm fire, with 200 firefighters on the scene.

The roofing crew left when the fire started and never returned to explain what happened, the fire department said.

One customer at Rainbow Nails at the mall described the early stages of the fire to CBS 2’s Suzanne Le Mignot. Workers noticed smoke wafting in.

“It was coming in slowly and then they indicated there was some work being done on the roof and there was some concern about that,” the customer, Mary Ellison, said. “Then somebody came outside to look, and it looked like the back of the building was on fire.”

No injuries were reported from the fire, which was “struck out” by 6 p.m. Traffic was snarled in the area of the fire, at Lincoln and Peterson avenues. CTA buses were rerouted.

Seven hundred ComEd customers were without power.

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