Bridal Shop a Total Loss in Wednesday's Extra-Alarm Blaze
Firefighters from 20 area fire departments battled an extra-alarm blaze that gutted the popular Eva's Bridal Shop and heavily damaged four other businesses on 95th Street in Oak Lawn.
OAK LAWN—A partially melted mannequin in a smoke-blackened wedding gown was about all that remained after an extra-alarm fire swept through a bridal shop and four other stores in the 4800 block of West 95th Street on Wednesday afternoon.
The first call of trouble at Eva's Bridal Shop at 4811 W. 95th St. came in at 2:51 p.m. By the time Oak Lawn firefighters rolled up three minutes later, smoke was billowing out from the front and back of the store.
"It was pretty intense," Oak Lawn Fire Chief George Sheets said. "We had to call a second alarm. We had exhausted all of our resources so we called for additional help."
Oak Lawn firefighters broke through plate glass windows at Eva's and adjacent stores, as mannequins in bridal gowns went up in flames and tumbled from their pedestals.
Both 95th Street and Cicero Avenue — two major Oak Lawn thoroughfares — were shut down for several hours while firefighters fought the blaze.
In addition to Eva's, at least four other businesses sustained structural or smoke damage, including Chiro-Med, Mattress Express, Radio Shack and Miss Fantasia Boutique.
Sheets said the roof collapsed at Eva's and called it a total loss. Radio Shack also suffered substantial smoke and structural damage.
"The inventory is water damaged," Sheets said. "It will probably be a significant loss as well."
While the other businesses suffered no structural damage, Sheets said they suffered heavy smoke damage.
"All in all, these buildings can be rebuilt but certainly lives can't so we're very happy for that," he said.
Matthew Matuszak was preparing for a busy holiday weekend at Radio Shack where he works as a store associate. He said he was unaware there was a fire until an employee from Palermo's Restaurant came running into the store.
"I didn't smell or hear anything," Matuszak said. "I didn't even know about it. He came in screaming, 'Fire, fire, fire.' I ran out of the store and I just watched the store burn down."
Matuszak said that he and employees and customers from adjoining businesses escaped through the back of their respective stores and huddled in the parking lot.
"Everybody got out safe before it really started," Matuszak said. "If anything, everybody is probably really shaken up."
Susan Reilly arrived on the scene frantically looking for her mother, Jan Stuba, a bridal consultant at Eva's.
"We can't get a hold of her," Reilly told Patch. "I don't know if she had an appointment and the fire department won't tell me anything."
Reilly later reported that she had spoken to the owners of the bridal shop who said everybody had gotten out of the store safely.
Visitors to nearby Christ Hospital said vents were closed in the hospital because smoke from the fire was disturbing patients.
Sheets said the fire is believed to have started in the attic area of Eva's Bridal Shop. It was possible that the fire may have gone undetected for some time before employees at Eva's noticed something awry.
"(That) may be the case here," he said when asked about the speed of the fire. "It was well involved by the time we arrived."
He expects the cause of the fire to be determined within the next several hours. Bridal dresses and other combustible materials inside the bridal shop contributed to the intensity of the fire.
Sheets did not know how many people were inside the businesses when the fire occurred.
"There were employees (at the bridal shop) that reported the fire," he said. "It was a busy day, a nice day in the community."
There were no injuries to firefighters or employees and customers at the businesses.
Oak Lawn Police Chief Bill Villanova dispelled erroneous information that a bomb had been the cause of Wednesday's fire after getting calls from other law enforcement agencies.
A bomb scare last Friday behind David's Bridal Shop may have been confused with Wednesday's fire at Eva's. Firefighters came across a suspicious object that resembled a pipe bomb when responding to a trash bin fire behind David's.
"It's not true," Villanova said. "Initially, firefighters thought it was a (pipe bomb.) It turned out to be more of a prank than a legitimate explosive. Somebody took those things and put them together and developed it into a bombing."
Calling the investigation "preliminary," Villanova said there was no indication of an incendiary device in Wednesday's fire.
"And we don't believe it's going to be that way," he added.
Up to 100 firefighters from 20 area fire departments were called in to help, including companies from Alsip, Hometown, Evergreen Park, Summit, Merrionette Park, East Palos, North Palos, Palos Park and Stickney.
Sheets said investigators would remain at the scene all night.
"It's going to take a lot of time," he said. "We'll come back in the morning and do an inside investigation and sift through everything."