30th Anniversary Of Arlington Park Fire

CHICAGO (CBS) — Friday marks 30 years since one of the biggest fires in Chicago-area history.

The first call came in about a fire at the Arlington International Racecourse in Arlington Heights around 1 a.m. on July 31, 1985.

Firefighter Chuck Kramer, who was off-duty, rushed to the scene.

“I remember hearing the commander say he had a confirmed fire and told them, ‘What’s the most I can have?’ They said, ‘Five alarms.’ He said, ‘Start with that.'”

Seven hours later, some 200 firefighters were battling the blaze.

The massive structure built in 1927 had all kinds of hidden spaces that made it impossible to put it out.

“The fire was burning its way through these hidden spaces, above us, below us, around us. And we couldn’t stop it,” said Kramer.

At one point, the fire chief put in a call to Fort Sheridan.

“He was trying to get ammunitions people out there to blow off the end of the building so we could actually make a firebreak and cut it,” Kramer said.

But Pentagon permission would have come too late.

The fire just kept burning until there was nothing left.

Arlington Park owner Dick Duchossois was determined to rebuild and within a month, with crews working non-stop, enough was done to run the Arlington Million, renamed the Miracle Million, that summer.

The fully rebuilt racetrack opened four years later in 1989.

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