CHICAGO (FOX 32 News/ Sun-Times Media Wire) - Firefighters spent more than three hours battling an extra-alarm fire that caused extensive damage to a Pilsen neighborhood restaurant early Wednesday on the Southwest Side.
Crews were called to the scene of the two-alarm fire at Nuevo Leon, 1515 W. 18th St., at 12:17 a.m., according to police and Fire Media Affairs.
The fire was extinguished by 3:30 a.m., fire officials said. It took 39 fire companies and 100 fire department personnel to contain the blaze.
The restaurant had been in business for 53 years before it was destroyed by the fire, owner Daniel Gutierrez said.
He says the gutted remains of the family restaurant are hard to look at, but he is grateful to be alive.
"I was up on the second floor taking a nap. I woke up and thought something was wrong with my eyes. It just seemed blurry, fogged. I thought it was my eyes. And no, right away, you smelled and felt the heat of the fire."
Gutierrez went on to say the fire will affect much more than just his business.
“I’m worried about my employees right now, then my customers,” Gutierrez said. “My employees. A lot of people out of work right now.”
Gutierrez said he didn’t know how the fire started. The second shift left about 11 p.m. Tuesday, and he was called about the fire shortly after midnight.
The pain of the fire is being felt throughout the Pilsen community. Longtime customers shed tears as though at a wake.
"My whole I have come here. I just came here last week. They supplied my food at my wedding two years ago. It just really hurts," Lupe Molina said.
"I think the Pilsen community took a big hit. I mean, this restaurant was here before I was even born," Richard Aguiler said.
The fire is believed to have started in an area near the kitchen. However, the area collapsed. So it was too dangerous for investigators to get in there to search for the cause. No injuries were reported in the blaze, authorities said. The cause remains under investigation.
He said he plans to rebuild the restaurant. Because for Gutierrez, the restaurant holds a lifetime of memories.
"I remember poking holes in the flour bags and making the cooks crazy because I was making a big mess. But just being able to grow up, having grandma teach me her recipes."