Bartlett warehouse fire burns for 4th day, crews 'blown off their feet' when initial racks collapsed

Firefighters using about 2K gallons per minute
BARTLETT, Ill. (WLS) -- A massive warehouse fire in northwest suburban Bartlett continued to burn for a fourth day Sunday.

Intense flames engulfed the 250,000 square foot warehouse in the 1200-block of Humbracht Circle in Brewster Creek Business Park, used by a document storage company called Access.

Bartlett warehouse fire is 'multi-day event,' fire chief says

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Bartlett Fire Chief William Gabrenya gives an update on a massive warehouse fire Friday morning.

Officials said the warehouse was stacked floor to ceiling with boxes of documents, providing ample fuel for the fire. What workers said began as a few boxes on fire grew into an inferno.

Gabrenya said Sunday that the operation will take longer than the three days he originally anticipated after. He said Saturday that fighting the fire remains a slow process and the hope is that fire operations will be 100% complete by Monday or Tuesday

"The crews stated they were blown off their feet when the first few racks collapsed," Gabrenya said. "You can imagine what goes through your head when you can't see in a smoke environment, get knocked off your feet and hear twisted metal collapsing around you. Emergency traffic was immediately called and all crews evacuated. We are very fortunate no one was hurt in this fire. These racks failed very quickly, too quickly."

Firefighters changed strategy to take the rest of the walls down in order to get inside the building, remove debris and put out the fire, Gabrenya said Saturday. He said a construction company was moving obstacles so water can hit certain spots.

"As they remove debris, twisted metal, and roof decking, we can reach the deep-seated fire and fully extinguish that area," Gabrenya said Sunday.

Firefighters are using about 2,000 gallons per minute, he said Saturday, when he noted that "things are going much better" and firefighters are "gaining ground."

Gabrenya said Friday morning that they anticipated the fire to be a multi-day event.

The smoke from the fire was so intense the plume was visible on ABC7's Live Doppler 7 Max weather radar.

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Chopper 7HD flies above a Bartlett warehouse fire burning for a second day Friday.

The building is a total loss and fire crews slowed down operations in order to focus on safety as they battled single-digit temperatures.

"Some of the pumps have been freezing, some of the waterlines have been frozen and we got a lot of ice on the ground so we had a couple firefighters slip and fall," Gabrenya said. "So we're trying to keep people warm so we're rotating crews in and out to keep them warm."

More crews were called in and the water being thrown on top has caused large areas of debris to freeze. Officials said they expect crews to be working through the weekend. A rotation of about 40 firefighters at a time will work through Monday as they try to put out the fire.

At one point so much water was being used fire officials say it started to drain the municipal water supply.

"We're continuing to flow probably 3,000 gallons of water per minute to try to extinguish most of what's still burning in there," Gabrenya said.

The trouble began around 10 a.m. Thursday. Officials said a sprinkler system initially kept the fire in check, but when a series of steel racks being used to store boxes collapsed, there was no saving the warehouse.

In a statement, Access said all its employees evacuated the building and are safe. The company added that it is working with local authorities to determine the cause of the fire.

Access also said a recovery team is working onsite to "assess the situation, determine any impact, and take necessary actions."

And while nearly 10 miles southwest of the fire a resident in Geneva sent ABC7 a photo of possible ash from the blaze he found in his yard, officials said the air is safe.

"It's just paper products that are burning in there, so we're not really concerned with air quality at this point," Gabrenya said.

The cause of the fire is still undetermined. A spokesperson for Access said Friday, "We continue to work with local authorities and our onsite recovery team to assess the situation, determine any impact, and take necessary actions once it's safe to do so. "

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