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Furniture store fire impacts neighborhood

Residents tell firsthand accounts of the May 29 fire

(Shaymus McLaughlin, for…)
May 30, 2012|By Shaymus McLaughlin, for RedEye

Less than 24 hours after the May 29 fire at Roy's Home Furnishings in Lincoln Park stalled CTA lines, closed streets and impacted many evening commuters, there was nothing left to do but clean up.

A handful of people were gathered around what was left of the store at 2455 Sheffield Avenue, watching the crews clean up, while runners and walkers often stopped to take photos of the damage.

Owner Roy Warner Jr., whose father opened the furniture store decades ago, looked on from across the street as construction equipment cleared away rubble. He declined comment, saying he was "too emotional" at the moment, but added that he has received support from many community members.

The fire began in the warehouse, firefighters have said, and spread to the rest of the store. The middle section of the second floor, which contained many rugs, collapsed during the fire, leaving a large empty space in the building's architecture.

"I just feel so bad for them, I really do," said postal worker Mary Neely, who has delivered in the neighborhood for 41 years. She dropped off the store's mail every day, and described Warner and his employees as "very nice."

She passed by the store on her route before the fire started, but when she made it back to her home near Wrightwood and Halsted later in the afternoon, she quickly discovered something was going on.

"It seemed like my apartment was burning, so I came outside, and then there was so much smoke," she said. "I had to call my supervisor let him know that I was going to be a few minutes late coming back because I inhaled all this smoke. It was really bad."

Less than a block away, on the northern border of DePaul's campus, student and school employee Sandra Denton was asked to cover a shift for a little bit due to train stoppages. At the time, she didn't know what was going on.

"I leave my apartment, and I look to my right, nothing, and then to my left. And all I said was, 'Oh crap,'" she explained. "All I see this giant billowing smoke cloud over here, and a bunch of fire trucks and police cars...I could see up to about Fullerton, and once you get a little bit past that, it was just smoke."

Like many DePaul students, Denton knew the exact building when she was told what was happening.

"I've walked past it a bunch of times, so I knew exactly where it was," she said. "I unfortunately don't know them [the owner and families that work there], but I'm glad to hear they're all safe."

Before the fire, Matthew VonMoss had been working on a paper in his apartment across the street. He heard a moderately loud noise. Then, 15 minutes later, saw fire trucks come by, prompting him to get up.

"I came outside, and there was a massive flame ball, basically the whole garage door, flames were just coming out," he said. "Even before they got the hose on it, the whole garage on the first floor, just flame."

From his front stoop, he could feel the heat from the blaze. A little scary?

"Yeah, definitely," he said. "It's not something you see every day."

He watched firefighters work until about 6 p.m., watching the flame as "it just kept spreading. They couldn't hold it down."

The next day, an excavator was lifting and dumping giant wedges of metal and piles of wood. The windows were all broken out, and inside, all that could be seen was charred everything.

"I don't know him personally, but that's got to be a rough thing to have happen to your store," VonMoss said. "It's a hard thing for anyone to have happen to them. It's devastating."

--Shaymus McLaughlin is a RedEye special contributor

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