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The Burbank Fire Department responded to a fire at Oak Park Liquor & Tobacco, 6800 W. 87th Street, around 1:30 a.m. Monday. Firefighters knocked down the flames within minutes but not before fire gutted the inside of the store.
Evidence from the scene suggests the fire was intentional in nature, Burbank Police Division Chief Mike Dudlo said.
The fire is actively being investigated by the Burbank Fire Department with assistance from the Office of the State Fire Marshall and the Burbank Police Department. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is also involved in the investigation.
A store employee, Sid Chaudhuri — who identified himself as a cousin of the owner — said the store was closed for the night when someone broke in and started the fire. Chaudhuri said the suspect got in by throwing a rock through the glass front door.
Dudlo said a Burbank patrol officer, who was first to arrive on scene, saw broken glass and footprints in the soot before he was forced to retreat when the fire intensified.
The fire started at the front of the store near the check-out counter, according to Chaudhuri. The flames burned through the ceiling above and quickly spread through the rest of the store.
Dudlo said that because illegal entry was made into the building, the incident has been classified as a burglary even though nothing was taken. However, if investigators determine the fire was deliberately set, the incident will be classified as arson.
Dudlo said there is no evidence to suggest the motive of the break-in was burglary.
“It is not believed the cash registers or ATM were targeted. It is believed at this point, the intentions were to solely start the business on fire,” Dudlo said.
Chaudhuri said he had no idea who would want to target the Liquor store but wondered if the fire was somehow connected to a recent peculiar incident.
Chaudhuri said another employee was approached last week by a man who demanded to see the store’s surveillance video. The man told the clerk his car was parked outside the business when someone broke in and stole $16,000 in cash from the vehicle. The clerk told the man he would be happy to show him the video if he brought the police in with him. Chaudhuri said the man left and never returned.
Chaudhuri said he’s worked at the store about six months and has never had a problem during that time.
“In Burbank people are not that bad,” Chaudhuri said. “I used to work in Harvey and if this happened there, I would understand. In Burbank, all the people are friendly.”
Chaudhuri said that most of the store’s security cameras were in working order and is hoping police can recover surveillance video.
“We have the computer equipment from the store as evidence,” Dudlo said. “It appears to have a lot of damage but we are going to have an expert try to recover footage.”
Dudlo said that detectives are requesting help with the damaged video from other agencies such as the FBI, Illinois State Police, and Cook County Sheriff’s Office.
Chaudhuri said the insurance company deemed the store a total loss and hired a company to salvage as much of the store’s inventory as possible.
According to Chaudhuri, the owner plans to repair and reopen the Liquor store as soon as possible.
“My cousin is at Burbank [City Hall] today trying to get the permits,” Chaudhuri said. “He wants to open 20 days after he gets the permits.”
Dudlo declined to speculate about a motive for the fire, but said “information obtained suggests this to be an isolated incident.”