A popular family-owned restaurant in downtown Platteville is a total loss and will be torn down in the next few days, according to the Platteville Fire Department.
Everyone was evacuated safely from Chicago’s Best on North 2nd Street, but Chief Dave Izzard said the building is severely damaged.
The fire started in one of nine second floor apartments above the restaurant and quickly spread to the bottom floor of the building.
Crews started putting out the blaze around 10 a.m. Saturday, and didn’t leave the scene until 7 p.m.
Neighbors lined the sidewalks around downtown Platteville to watch one of their favorite pizza spots go up in flames.
Kathy Stecklein and her daughter, Shelby, have dined at Chicago’s Best many times.
They watched on Saturday as firefighters drenched the building from nearby rooftops and cherry pickers for more than eight hours. From some angles, the restaurant was barely visible behind a layer of smoke and water.
"All you could see was just a little bit of smoke and then all of the sudden, the whole street just filled up with smoke," Shelby explained.
"This is the second worst fire I've seen in Platteville ever since I've lived here," Kathy added.
The owners and family were also at the scene, watching their restaurant burning, then flooding. Kaitlin Downs, the co-owner’s daughter, said it’s not just her mother’s business that was destroyed, but also her second home.
"There are a lot of memories in there and to think that you're never going to walk inside that place again, it's kind of depressing," Downs said. "It will be hard to say goodbye to it."
The old structure made it difficult for crews to put out the flames, while also making it dangerous for them to go inside.
"That makes it a little bit harder to fight the fire because you may have several levels of ceilings you have to fight, and some of the older wood obviously burns much quicker than any of the new stuff would," Platteville Fire Department’s public information officer Julie Loeffelholz said.
Continuously pumping water onto the building was the only way to ensure flames didn’t spread to nearby buildings, according to Loeffelholz.
"Surround and drown," Loeffelholz said, "and just making sure that it's getting put out and nothing will rekindle overnight and put other buildings in harm's way."
The fire department returned to Chicago's Best shortly after 10 p.m. Saturday after law enforcement noticed some possible rekindling in the building. It ended up being additional smoke and smoldering, but crews were back at the scene for another two hours making sure it was put out.
Platteville’s fire chief said that to the best of his knowledge, no other buildings were damaged directly by the fire, but some did suffer water and smoke damage. There are no estimates for damages at this time, but a more accurate assessment of damages should be released in the coming days.
"As for the structure," Loeffelholz said about the Chicago’s Best building, "with the extreme heat and temperatures and the amount of water that we've had to pour on it, I would say that it's probably a total loss."
Six fire departments and three separate EMS crews were on the scene. One firefighter suffered heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation but was expected to be OK.
Chief Izzard stated in a press release that he can’t get the heavy equipment to Chicago’s Best until Monday to begin the demolition process.
"There is so much unsafe as far as the weight of water, collapse of roof and walls, burned stuff in the way, that we can’t go inside the building which is why we need the heavy equipment to kind of tear off the top floor to make sure the fire is out, and from there we may have to tear down the next floor," Izzard explained in that release.
A local insurance agent is expected to be in touch with the fire department Monday to make an assessment on the damage.
Those living in the apartments above Chicago’s Best, as well as in two apartments in an adjacent building, are currently displaced. The American Red Cross is assisting them.