CFD rules massive flea market fire accidental

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CHICAGO (STMW) - The Chicago Fire Department has ruled the massive blaze that gutted the Buyer’s Flea Market last week on the West Side accidental, officials announced Thursday.

The investigation “concluded that an electrical issue in a vendor’s booth cannot be ruled out as the cause of the blaze,” according to the CFD statement.

CFD called in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ National Response Team to help determine the cause and origin of the March 8 fire. The team brought with it heavy equipment and a mobile lab that processed evidence and assisted investigators in sifting through the charred remains of 100 cars, and an assortment of merchandise at Buyers Flea Market, 4545 W. Division.

The fire’s “point of origin was the vendor’s booths located in the south portion of the market, known as the outdoor section,” the statement said.

Arson was ruled out as a potential cause. The National Response Team provided a graphic model showing the suspected source and travel of the fire and smoke. Investigators also performed “extensive” interviews of witnesses, conducted computer reconstruction of the events and reviewed video footage from multiple security cameras, which recorded almost every area of the market.

Investigators described the fire at the popular flea market as one of “enormous proportions,” which brought a total of 180 firefighters and paramedics to the scene and, at its height, involved more than 60 pieces of fire equipment.

The market drew thousands on weekends, leading some neighbors to complain about clogged streets—catered to a largely Hispanic crowd. Vendors sold everything from tacos to rosary beads to bracelets. It was billed as “Chicagoland’s largest indoor/outdoor flea market” and has been in business for more than 30 years, according to the market’s website.

There were no reports of injuries in the blaze that started about 9:45 a.m. and wasn’t extinguished until about 5:25 p.m.

This is the first time the ATF National Response Team has responded to a Chicago fire investigation, though the ATF frequently helps fire officials in investigating blazes in commercial structures and places of worship. The federal assistance was requested because of the size of the building and the amount of work needed to determine the cause of the fire, which required manpower “far in excess” of what CFD has available.

Fire officials said the property’s owner has indicated that he will rebuild the market.