Chicago fire tears apart Twisted Hippo Brewery, Ultimate Ninjas gym, apartment building; cause under investigation

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CHICAGO (WLS) — Chicago Fire officials now believe they know where an additional Albany Park fire started on Monday.

The fire spread to several buildings in Albany Park on the northwest side Monday morning, leaving one man seriously injured, the Chicago Fire Department said.

The fire started around 3:30 a.m. in the 4300 block of North Richmond Street and spread to several buildings, including an apartment building, the Twisted Hippo Brewery and the Ultimate Ninjas Gym. Neighbors said the gymnasium and brewery were destroyed by fire.

The Chicago Fire Department said a 60-year-old man was taken to hospital in serious condition with smoke inhalation.

There was a partial building collapse, with rubble falling on nearby vehicles. Neighbors heard and saw explosions, which Twisted Hippo’s owner said were likely caused by their carbon dioxide and nitrogen tanks.

“We were right outside our window,” said neighbor Brian Pudil. “We could see it, and we could feel the impact. It was so big.”

The owner of Twisted Hippo diner and restaurant was devastated by the sight of her business on fire.

“It’s kind of unreal,” said Marilee Rutherford, owner of Twisted Hippo. “It’s tough. It’s going to be tough, but we’re lucky to have had it, and we’ll see how we go forward.”

Twisted Hippo opened in January 2019 on a site where three other breweries had quickly opened and closed.

As one of the Twisted Hippo’s exterior brick walls crumbled and crushed cars, a nearby business also burned down, Ultimate Ninjas Gym. His President’s Day Camp for kids was full.

“We love Chicago, we love what we’re doing for the community, but it’s going to be hard to know what to do at this point,” said Ultimate Ninjas owner Jeff Piejak. “It’s just all up in the air.”

“It’s really hard to see,” neighbor Vanessa Peña said. “It’s a local business that has been a staple in the neighborhood. »

A three-story building next to businesses also caught fire, leaving several residents homeless.

“I lost everything. Here is. I have everything I own on my back. Everyone here in the building has lost everything because they’re not going to let us back in for a while and even if everything doesn’t get screwed up by fire, all the water damage is going to do in everything else.” said Michael resident building May.

“I have work today and I’m working from home,” said resident Jason New. “Now that I’m homeless, I don’t know what’s going on.”

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but firefighters said it appears to have started outside in a walkway under wooden stairs between commercial and residential buildings. But authorities refrained from calling the fire suspicious. The cause is still under investigation.

Some residents said the fire started in a third-floor apartment, but apartment owner Gary Carlson said that was not the case.

“There’s no way that fire jumped from my building to the Twisted Hippo building,” Carlson said.

He cited a text message from his tenants, saying: “I arrived before the building caught fire The bar next door was on fire, then 4339 N. Richmond caught fire..”

4339 N. Richmond is Carlson’s residential building address.

Carlson has a history of code violations at dozens of properties he owns in the area.

Public records show he was ordered to solve the building electrical problems. A permit for work was obtained in January, but it was not clear if the work was completed and inspected.

Displaced residents gathered in the street and had their homes burned complained of garbage and rowdy neighbors in the building. A state legislator said he had a “bad feeling” about the building.

“It’s about an owner being guilty until proven innocent, isn’t it?” Carlson said. “As a landlord in the city of Chicago, guilty until proven innocent instead of the reverse way around. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. »

RELATED: Chicago firefighter injured while battling Albany Park blaze at apartment building under construction

He added that the brewery “had highly flammable materials in there. I don’t blame anyone. But why are they blaming me?”

Chicago Fire Department Deputy District Chief Tom Carbonneau said Monday morning the blaze had been extinguished, after firefighters battled it for hours. Crews remained on site to extinguish hot spots and clean up.

“The building department is going to come out, and this building will have to be demolished for everyone’s safety,” Chief Carbonneau said. “The front is still tilting right now, so the front of it will eventually collapse or be knocked down.”

Carlson said he was told the city might order his building to be demolished, although he felt it was “perfectly salvageable.”

He said he was grateful no one was hurt and sorry that families were suddenly left homeless. Carlson insisted he always responded to any issues tenants and neighbors brought to his attention.

A GoFundMe has already raised over $100,000 to help the Twisted Hippo Brewpub rebuild.

Across the street at the Montrose Saloon, neighbors raised a drink on Monday night.

“We thought we’d go out, have a beer and, unfortunately, come and see the damage and see what it looks like,” said Albany Park resident Armin Suljevic. “And that’s when it really hits you how bad it is.”

Sun-Times Media contributed to this report.

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