City may bill for equipment loss in tow lot blaze

Firefighters are battling a blaze at an Evanston towing company. / Photo from Network Video Productions
Firefighters are battling a blaze at an Evanston towing company. / Photo from Network Video Productions

Evanston Fire Department investigators are questioning North Shore Towing officials, hoping to learn more about operations at the tow yard before a fire on Sunday.

The blaze sent huge plumes of flame in the air over Oakton Street and McCormick Boulevard and required the assistance of a number of surrounding fire companies.

Evanston Fire Chief Greg Klaiber said Tuesday that officials hope to learn from tow company officials “what was going on before our arrival.”

A passerby reported the fire at about 2:40 p.m., officials said. The fire started on the east end of the yard and there were no workers at the site when the first crews arrived, reported officials.

Determining the cause “is really going to be a challenge,” Klaiber said because of the conditions at the junkyard, 2527 Oakton St.

Klaiber said firefighters had to separate junked cars on the lot to get to fire, which meanwhile had spread to 100 or more crushed vehicles.

In the process, “evidence had to be pulled apart,” making investigators’ job of identifying the cause more difficult due to the high density of crushed vehicles, he said.

ComEd reported power outages to 726 Skokie customers and 54 Evanston customers, as a result of power lines downed by the fire.

There were no injuries. Klaiber commended the efforts of firefighters, some of whom were on the scene for six hours, battling the small fires that kept breaking out among the junked vehicles.

“It was sunny and hot, and they did an excellent job of combating the fire, mitigating it,” he said, including preventing flames from spreading to the Home Depot store, located just to the east.

He also praised assisting Mutual Aid Box Alarm System communities, from Skokie, Wilmette, Winnetka, Niles, Park Ridge and Northfield.

Some of the companies initially provided backup at Evanston stations and then were moved to the fire scene as fires in the crowded yard as the alarm level was upgraded.

“The MABAS agreement exists for a reason and it’s exactly this kind of situation,” Klaiber said.

Officials are exploring whether to seek reimbursement from the property owner, as provided for in the city code.

In Monday’s fire, Evanston Fire Department equipment (hoses and other gear), had significant exposure to various petroleum products during the incident, officials said.

The cost recovery code, in certain hazardous environment or hazardous material situations, allows the city to recover costs for equipment that has been deemed unusable or unsafe for future operations, said Division Chief Thomas Janetske.

Officials are still in the process of inventorying any losses, said Janetske. He said the department also wants to learn whether any of the mutual aide communities have any claims too.

Sunday’s fire bore similarities to a massive fire in September of 2006, also at the North Shore towing yard, and which also required large scale assistance,

In that fire, with flames shooting 75 feet high, firefighters encountered problems with hydrant placement and water pressure,

Officials talked afterward about requiring North Shore to install some kind of loop system around the area, much as fire officials required of Home Depot and Sam’s stores when those businesses opened up.

Water pressure was an issue in Sunday’s fire, Klaiber confirmed. He said a call to the water department, which was able to boost water pressure to that part of town, “helped a lot.’’

He also indicated that hydrant placement posed a challenge, spaced out more than the 300 feet distance of residential areas, but firefighters, “but we were able to get it done,” he said about the successful fire suppression effort.

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