One-third of the Chicago Fire Department's on-duty personnel have responded to a 5-11 alarm fire that has engulfed two warehouse buildings, causing part of one to collapse, in the Bridgeport neighborhood Tuesday night.
A four-story building caught fire after 9 p.m. and then jumped to another building, according to the Chicago Fire Department. Extra alarms, bringing more fire equipment, firefighters and paramedics were called shortly after firefighters arrived.
One firefighter suffered a back injury and was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in serious condition, said Chicago Firefighter Meg Ahlheim, a department spokeswoman.
The fire climbed into the sky and sent ashes down on cars below. The warmth from the blaze could be felt blocks away.
"You could see the embers from the highway," said Darcy Benedict, a 28-year-old UIC medical school student. "I could see blue flames rising up."
Benedict and her boyfriend saw the fire from Interstate 55 and got off to get a better look.
A crowd of at least 40 adults and children stood behind police tape, bundled up in the freezing weather, taking videos with cellphones.
Several others at the scene expressed doubt that the fire could be contained, as dozens of hoses could be seen in the distance spraying high and low onto the enormous blaze.
The commander at Tuesday's fire used two 'special alarms' to call for additional equipment, firefighters and paramedics beyond what a 5-11 alarm calls for.
“I’m looking at the south side of the main fire building and there’s a big portion of exterior wall and roof collapse,” Ahlheim said.
There was “extreme fire” throughout the buildings. Nobody has been reported injured.
The fire in the second building was mostly extinguished as of about 10:25 p.m. but the first building is "still involved," Ahlheim said.
The special alarm is "extremely rare" according to the Chicago Fire Department. About 200 firefighters and paramedics are at the scene.
The alarms normally escalate one at a time beyond a normal fire response up to a fifth alarm, though the scene commander skipped a fourth alarm once the fire jumped to another building.
The fire Tuesday appears to be the largest since one in 2006 that gutted the historic Wirt Dexter Building in the South Loop. That fire broke out before 3 p.m. on a weekday, snarled downtown traffic and forced the CTA to stop service on Loop L tracks.
There was also a 5-11 fire in 2012 - in Avondale on the Northwest Side. That burned for hours but didn't required the special alarms called for Tuesday night's fire. About 200 firefighters and paramedics responded to that fire.
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