An early morning fire Sunday in downtown Mount Prospect left a Japanese restaurant gutted, residents homeless, businesses without power, streets closed and the immediate future of a popular bakery uncertain.
Displaced residents were given shelter at Mount Prospect village hall, located only half a block away from the fire scene in the 100 block of South Main Street. The village's human services department was on hand, as well as the Red Cross, to attend to the residents. Another casualty was the office of the Mount Prospect Chamber of Commerce, which shares a wall with the Sakura restaurant.
"Early reports to me are that we're completely lost as far as damage goes," Executive Director Dawn Fletcher Collins.
Firefighters responded to the blaze in the two-story mixed-use buildings about 4 a.m., said Mount Prospect Fire Chief John Malcolm. Firefighters and police officers worked first on getting the occupants out of the second-floor apartments.
"Crews made their way down to the basement," he said. "As they got into the basement, there was smoke. There was heavy fire in the basement, so they ended up backing out of the basement and then we set up what we call defensive operations. At that point, our primary concern was keeping it contained to restaurant. There is still water damage to Picket Fence (Realty) and the (Central Continental) Bakery."
No injuries were reported, and the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, Malcolm added.
Much of the damage was concentrated in Sakura, 105 S. Main St. The front of the building was stained with smoke, while the windows in the apartments above were hollowed out, displaying interiors consumed by smoke. Icicles hung from the awning as well as the interior of an adjacent business, somewhat barring the view of fallen bricks and timbers, and the area was covered with the icy remains of water firefighters used to put out the flames.
Collins said she was allowed briefly to enter the chamber office to take a video for insurance purposes and grab a few things. She said the ceilings had fallen in through at least half the office, while there was extensive water damage.
"Every single thing is touched by water, because it came pouring through the ceiling and the walls," she said.
She was able to look on the bright side, however, saying she was grateful that the lives of the people in the apartments were saved.
As for her chamber work, she said she can take her laptop anywhere and can set up her operations in the library if she has to.
"I can't say enough about our public works and fire department," she added. "Mount Prospect's the best."
Malcolm said public works crews were was instrumental in clearing and salting the road as well as boosting the water pumps to assist firefighters.
Robert Czerniak, owner of the Central Continental Bakery next door to the restaurant, said his business suffered mostly water damage.
"But besides that, the structure of the building is pretty good," he said. "Hopefully, we could open up maybe by tomorrow. We'll have to see. We have to clean up everything and we have to have an inspector come in here and check on the building structure."
Czerniak said he had a couple of people working in the bakery at the time fire broke out.
"They saw smoke. They came out, and the fire department was already here, and they handled the situation."
Tom Zander of the neighboring Picket Fence Realty said his office also escaped severe damage.
"Except for the lack of electrical power at the moment, we should be in fine shape, at least for the near term," he said.
Nancy Morgan, the village's human services director, said six residential units were affected.
"We have been getting background information from (residents) and helping them locate where they could stay temporarily and giving them comfort," she said.
"Some of them, it appears as though they will have friends or relatives to stay with and some do not."
For those who do not have a place to stay, human services will be helping find a hotel, Morgan added.
One of the displaced residents, David Summy, was in village hall Sunday, sitting with his dog, a black Lab named, ironically, Smokey.
"I woke up at about a quarter after four," he said. "I was pretty much passed out from the smoke. My roommate, he was up. and he was in his bedroom, and he smelled the smoke. The whole apartment filled up so fast that he was just beating on my door until I finally snapped out of it and woke up. Then I just grabbed the dog and my coat and out the door we went. And I didn't grab my shoes or socks, so I was outside in the snow with my bare feet."
Summy said his roommate is staying with his brother, while he is likely going to a hotel.
Chris Neugebauer, who lives in a different section of the building, said he was at his computer when he smelled smoke.
"I thought my computer was burning, so I unplugged the thing," said Neugebauer, who also plans to stay in a hotel. "And I keep walking around, and it's getting stronger and stronger."