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Investigators work to determine cause of massive pallet fire on Chicago's West Side

Investigators on scene of West Side Chicago pallet business after fire
Investigators on scene of West Side Chicago pallet business after fire 01:54

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Crews were back on the scene Wednesday, a day after an enormous fire destroyed a pallet company in West Town.

The fire started at the pallet business at 2029 W. Hubbard St. in the West Town neighborhood around 5:46 p.m. Some 300 firefighters and 80 different pieces of equipment were needed to battle the fire.

The company had about 20,000 pallets on-site, all of which were stacked 6 to 10 feet high and all of which burned. They went up in a massive blaze from which the smoke could be seen for miles around—from the former John Hancock Center to O'Hare International Airport.

Several forklifts and other pieces of equipment were also destroyed in the fire, and propane tanks were heard firing off in explosions as the fire raged.

A day after the fire, the truss-roofed building that had housed the pallet business, and the adjacent yard with so many stacks of pallets, were a smoldering ruin. But a nearby building housing a diesel shop was saved—and was open for business on Wednesday.

Rows of semi-truck trailers—some of which were damaged by the fire—created a thermal barrier between the burning pallet yard and the diesel facility. Firefighters watered down the trailers to keep them cool, creating a water curtain to protect the diesel shop—which could have created a much greater disaster if it had caught fire.

As for the pallet business property itself, the Chicago Police Department had secured the scene Thursday. The Office of Fire Investigations was on the scene, trying to determine the cause and origin of the fire and find out if any eyewitnesses were available or any security cameras were running. They were also examining physical indicators on the site.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, insurance carriers, and other representatives were also investigating.

Investigators to determine cause of massive Chicago pallet company fire 01:04

The burned building itself remained open and dangerous Wednesday, with the steel from its roof left melted, and a mass of charred debris through which investigators still must sift.

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries while fighting the fire on Tuesday evening. The fire also disrupted Metra rail service for several hours beginning in the middle of the afternoon rush—and even damaged the nearby Metra tracks along Kinzie Street.

Photos and video of the fire were shared widely over social media.

One video posted to the Chicago subreddit showed the raging fire from onboard a Metra train on either the Union Pacific West or Milwaukee District West line. The video showed the fire so close that the stacks upon stacks of burning pallets were visible at the base of the wall of flames.

Another view from a Metra train, posted to TikTok, shows passengers staring in amazement out the window. A caption on the video notes that the heat could be felt from the train.

Photos of the flames or smoke from the West Loop, Wicker Park, and even the western suburbs were posted.

The morning commute on Metra Wednesday was not affected by the aftermath of the fire.

Meanwhile Wednesday evening, another extra-alarm fire broke in a different industrial building on the West Side. This fire was raging in a building in the 2800 block of West Grand Avenue. No injuries were reported.

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