CHICAGO | A long time neighborhood restaurant and former opera house were destroyed Wednesday morning by a three-alarm fire that served as an early wake-up call for most of Hegewisch.
Long time neighborhood residents Estelle Jeskey and Thelma Hazzard watched from the sidewalk as firefighters worked amid clouds of smoke from the buildings.
District Chief Ken Wojtecki of the Chicago Fire Department said the fire started about 5:45 a.m. in the Cousins Restaurant at the corner of 133rd Street and Baltimore Avenue in the heart of Hegewisch's business district. The fire spread to two connected buildings, according to Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.
One of the buildings destroyed in the fire was the former Hegewisch Opera House, built in 1895, said Mike Aniol, vice president of the Hegewisch Chamber of Commerce.
Residents lined the streets and watched while firefighters sprayed water on the smoldering structures as clouds of smoke rolled out of the buildings.
Langford said the cause of the fire is unknown and it is unknown if anyone was injured or inside the buildings at the time of the blaze. Langford said the owner of the restaurant was in Mexico Wednesday.
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Wojtecki said there were no apparent injuries, but officials were not able to confirm the whereabouts of a homeless woman known to be in the area. He said the buildings will have to be demolished.
"Evidently, this was a pretty popular restaurant that a lot of people in Hegewisch regularly visit," Wojtecki said.
Lori Nomat, owner at Samtel Cellular, said she did not think the fire would negatively affect business at her shop, which is across the street from her store.
Eighteen-year-old Felicia Radowski and her friend Ariel Dorton, 16, watched from a distance. Dorton, who is from Hammond, had spent the night at Radowski's house, who lives a block away from the restaurant that burned. Dorton said sirens woke them early this morning.
"We walked around this place yesterday," Dorton said. "We said today we'd go there."
"The whole entire area was thick, cream-colored smoke," Radowski said.