Emergency crews responding to a blaze at a Roosevelt Road gas station early Saturday morning soon discovered they had more than just a structure fire on their hands. Investigators from both the police and fire departments are looking into the possibility the fire was set intentionally to cover up a burglary.
A 911 call shortly before 3 a.m. on Nov. 17 brought fire and police officials to 7400 Roosevelt Rd., where flames were shooting through the windows in the rear of the Citgo gas station. With six other communities responding to the blaze, firefighters were able to get the flames under control in about an hour, according to Deputy Fire Chief Bob McDermott. It was at this point that police noticed two large holes cut through the back of the building. Telephone lines leading to the structure appeared to have been cut, and power to the building was also interrupted, according to a police report.
Once inside, investigators learned that a safe had been stolen from the property, along with the drawer to a cash register. A second safe still inside had been opened.
Deputy Police Chief Tom Aftanas would not disclose how much money may have been taken in the heist, but did confirm that police recovered the missing safe and register drawer in an alley behind 2855 N. Kildare Ave. in Chicago.
“Obviously, we have the safe and that has to be processed, as well as evidence from inside [the building],” Aftanas said.
According to a police report, the gas station was closed shortly after midnight. No employees were present at the time of the alleged heist. An adjoining business, Bill’s Automotive, was not damaged as a result of the fire.
Though the likelihood of a fire on top of the burglary is certainly suspicious, Aftanas said it can’t be assumed the two are connected. It’s unusual, he said, for a burglar to try and cover his tracks by burning the building.
“That’s rare for somebody to commit a burglary and then set the place on fire,” Aftanas said. “If you are trying to cover something up, why set the place on fire and draw attention to it?”
According to McDermott, no official ruling has been made as to the fire’s cause or its origin within the building.
Investigators for the fire department are looking into the possibility that the blaze was set intentionally, McDermott said, and a ruling is expected in the next week. Initial evidence suggests the fire originated in an office located in the rear of the gas station. Those flames eventually reached the roof, McDermott said, and forced firefighters to battle the flames from outside the building because the structure was threatening to collapse.
“They had visible fire in that southeast corner coming from the window,” McDermott said of the scene that greeted those first to arrive. “When they opened the door, the smoke was down to the floor already.”
Det. Sgt. Michael Keating of the police department was quick to label the blaze as arson and said he believes that whoever is responsible for the burglary set the fire to destroy a digital surveillance system inside the building. Keating suggested that several computers in the gas station were targeted in an effort to destroy images on the hard drive. Investigators are attempting to recover any surveillance footage that may help solve the case, meanwhile police have “a lot of evidence to sort through,” Keating said. No suspects had been identified and no arrests were made as of Monday.
“Hopefully we’ll get lucky,” Keating said.