By Charlie De Mar

CHICAGO (CBS)–An investigation is underway to determine what caused a massive fire Tuesday in Hermosa that destroyed Newly Wed Foods, a Northwest side food factory that burned to the ground.

The fire started in a kitchen area where bread crumbs were cooking, according to a plant manager.

Although the blaze started small, it spread quickly and encompassed the building. Thick black smoke and flames were shooting from the roof Tuesday afternoon and could be seen from miles away.

No one inside the building on the 4100 block of West Wrightwood was injured, but a firefighter was taken to a hospital with a minor knee injury, officials said.

The fire destroyed the factory and left an uncertain future for a family-run business that first started in Chicago more than eight decades ago. The Chicago factory is only a fraction of the company’s global presence, however. It now has 25 manufacturing plants across the world in countries like New Zealand, Thailand and the Philippines, according to the website for Newly Weds Foods.

Fire crews who arrived just before 5 p.m. to battle the extra-alarm fire were met with towering flames and black smoke billowing from the roof and walls of the structure.

It took firefighters hours to finally extinguish the fire, which halted Metra trains during the evening rush. Milwaukee District North trains resumed later Tuesday evening.

A major challenge for fire crews was getting enough water to the scene. An enormous quantity of water was being rushed to nearby fire hydrants, leaving some residents who live in the community with reduced water pressure.

The shock of the enormity of the blaze lingered on Wednesday.

John Hovorka, one of about 200 people who worked in the factory, walked into the same building for work for 36 years. He returned Wednesday after the flames were finally extinguished to get a full view of the damage.

“I purposely wanted to see it in the daylight–it’s sad,” Hovorka said. “It’s sort of like grave, you know? You look at the headstone and it is what it is.”

A rainbow hung in the sky over the building on the sunny day that followed the day of the fire. It seemed out-of-place, but senior vice president of Newly Weds Foods, John Seely, said it represented a beacon of hope.

“I think everybody stepped up and all things considered nobody was hurt and the employees are dedicated and pitching in,” Seely said.


Charlie De Mar