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WATCH NOW: 'We're chasing the fire': Crews battle fire at historic Uptown building
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WATCH NOW: 'We're chasing the fire': Crews battle fire at historic Uptown building

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A historic building in Uptown in Kenosha that houses several businesses and apartments was the scene of a massive fire early Wednesday morning.

The fire, which was called in just before 8 a.m., apparently started at the Music Outlet, 6217 22nd Ave., according to Kenosha Fire Chief Charles Leipzig. Leipzig said the investigation was still ongoing and the official cause of the fire was yet to be determined, but it was believed a person inside the record store was burning incense in the early-morning hours and attempted to extinguish the fire alone, but was unsuccessful.

That individual suffered what Leipzig described as both a minor burn and smoke inhalation injury, but Leipzig was unsure of his medical condition.

“I don’t believe he was immediately taken to the hospital,” Leipzig said.

Nine fire departments respond

The age of the building, which is listed as 1916 on the south side, and the fact that all the businesses and apartments share an attic, made fighting the fire a challenge, the chief said.

“By the time our crews got here, we had a full involvement into the attic,” Leipzig said. “At this point now, we’re chasing the fire. ... The building was built with false ceilings, and that’s what we’re doing right now, is chasing it throughout the ceiling.”

As many as nine area fire departments from both southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois reportedly responded. Also assisting was the Kenosha Water Utility to help map out continuous water sources needed to put the fire down.

“This is an older area of town, so the water supply is a little bit ‘iffy’ in places,” Leipzig said. “We have other departments helping us relay water as well. We have a lot of water flowing.”

The building houses three businesses on 22nd Avenue and between two and three on 63rd Street. Others in that building include Superior Wireless, 6227 22nd Ave.; Diva Styles, 2112 63rd St.; Bellissima’s Boutique, 6227 22nd Ave.; Professional Services Group, 2108 63rd St.; and at least one other that was unable to be identified by News staff at the scene.

Leipzig reported no injuries to firefighters and said that all the tenants of the upper-level apartment buildings were safely evacuated.

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“Right now, we have a lot of fire loss, but no injuries as of yet,” he said.

Even with a huge response by fire departments with manpower, along with fairly moderate temperatures for mid-August, keeping enough people rested to continue the battle was among a number of challenges, Leipzig said.

“We have a lot of water going on, but we need to get it effectively to the fire,” he said. “The narrow roads cause somewhat of an issue. The hydrants are (older), so that’s why we have Water Utility here, to find the best hydrants in the area. Like everything else, we can’t get enough manpower on scene to attack it initially. It just takes some time to set up these operations.

“It’s a relatively nice day, but we let them work for a half hour, and then we have to get them a break because we don’t want them getting injured. We’re getting people in and out, getting them rehabbed, get some water and then using other crews.”

Tough loss

The significant damage to such an old building in a part of the city that has been targeted for improvements by Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian will be a difficult pill for many to swallow, Leipzig said.

“There’s a couple of buildings here that are older and were probably show pieces in the beginning of the development of Uptown,” he said. “This is one that was slated for development. There is an Uptown development that the mayor was putting through right now.

“He was on scene earlier, and I’m sure he’s disappointed as well. It’s an older building that has some ornate and very interesting features to it. It’s a tragic situation, but right now, we’re happy we don’t have any injuries to it.”

The fire drew plenty of attention from area residents, who surrounded the scene to get a closer look.

One of those, George Matic, who arrived on his bicycle, said he could clearly smell the burning building from his house just a few blocks away on 54th Street.

“I was sitting out on my front porch and could see all the brown smoke coming up,” he said. “I could actually smell it. ... The address that they gave was the record store. I’ve been in there before because they had a lot of old vintage vinyl.

“I imagine once they get (the fire) out, the whole building will have to be torn down. The building is so old and all the wood in there is just so brittle.”

Matic echoed Leipzig’s sentiments about the disappointment to see such a vintage building ablaze.

“Considering they were revitalizing the Uptown area, this is going to put a big damper on it,” he said

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