The fire that destroyed three downtown Evanston businesses on Dec. 29 had the potential to wipe out one entire side of the block, according to Fire Chief Greg Klaiber.
“The professionalism of our firefighters and decisions made by our operations chief on that day went a long way to save and protect the exposures not only to the east but across the alley,” Klaiber told city council members on Monday.
Recapping the five-hour long battle firefighters fought against the blaze, Klaiber explained that the Davis Street Fire was particularly dangerous and could have caused much more serious damage had conditions been different. While firefighters have identified the source of the fire as the kitchen of Pine Yard Restaurant, they are still investigating the cause, according to Klaiber.
The blaze began around 2:30 a.m. Dec. 29 and swept through Pine Yard to destroy the two businesses next door, Technicolour Nails 1 and Taco Diablo. Fire officials must demolish the building because the damage was so bad, according to Klaiber. The bike store Wheel & Sprocket next door sustained some water and smoke damage, but has since reopened.
“A fire wall saved the bike shop, and I’m not exaggerating here, many properties along Davis Street east of Pine Yard,” Klaiber said.
When the first firefighters arrived on the scene, they saw flames shooting up from the commercial cooking vent hoods on the west side of the building. Some firefighters began trying to stop the blaze on the roof, while others went inside the building and made their way back into the kitchen of Pine Yard.
After firefighters cut a hole in the roof, they discovered that the flame had spread throughout much of the wood truss construction, a particularly dangerous type of construction for firefighters, according to Klaiber. When a fire spreads in that type of construction, the entire roof can collapse, killing firefighters below. In fact, two Chicago firefighters recently died when a wood truss roof collapsed, he said.
Once firefighters see that the blaze has spread to the truss space beneath the roof, all firefighters are ordered off the roof and out of the building as a standard procedure, according to Klaiber.
“That is not a call that any of our firefighters like to hear, because they want to get in there and put the fire out,” he said.
From that point on, the firefighters began what Klaiber called a “defensive operation,” trying to protect all of the surrounding properties from damage.
Every on-duty firefighter in Evanston and fire companies from Morton Grove, Winnetka, Wilmette, Skokie and Northfield were on scene for five hours fighting the blaze. Klaiber estimated that they used 3,000 gallons of water a minute for more than a million gallons of water total.
Because firefighters were out there so long, public works trucks had to come to refuel the gas in some fire engines. The water department also increased water pressure in the area of the fire, to enable firefighters to continue to flow water at a high intensity.
At one point, a segment of Oak Street filled with water, and streets and sanitation crews had to help clear the debris so the water could flow down the drains.
“It required the cooperation and help and assistance of many others,” Klaiber said. “I think you should fee, as a council, tremendously proud that you have a city that works like this.”
Klaiber noted that the lack of wind at the time of the fire helped prevent it from spreading all the way down to Maple Avenue.
While firefighters don’t know they exact cause, he said they have a pretty good idea, based on the fact that the blaze began in the kitchen area of Pine Yard. Insurance adjusters are currently examining pieces of kitchen equipment forensically in a sterile, controlled environment in Skokie, he said.
Building owner George Radiaos told Patch that he definitely plans to rebuild the property, which was a total loss. He said he is still waiting to find out the total damages from his insurance company, and does not yet have a timeline on when he will be able to start construction. The owners of Technicolour Nails 1 and Taco Diablo both told Patch they want to rebuild and reopen.
In the meantime, the employees of all three businesses are out of a job indefinitely. To help them out, local concert venue and restaurant 27 Live is hosting a Davis Street Fire Benefit at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18, at 1012-14 Church St. Money raised through ticket sales, sponsorships and a raffle will help employees who lost their source of income.
Taco Diablo owner Dan Kelch will provide food from Taco Diablo and his other restaurant, Lulu’s. Firefighters and employees of the three businesses hit by the blaze are invited to attend for free.