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Washington Park residents demand answers after community Christmas tree fire – NBC Chicago

Residents and officials are demanding answers after a beloved Christmas tree burned down in Chicago’s Washington Park neighborhood for the second year in a row.

On Monday, the Washington Park Chamber of Commerce called on Chicago police and firefighters to step up their investigations into the blaze, which occurred around 5 a.m. on Sunday in the 5500 block of South King Drive.

The group say they have surveillance footage indicating the blaze may have been deliberately started, although authorities say the blaze is still under investigation and no cause has been determined. for the moment.

The 30-foot man-made tree was officially lit in the community on Saturday night, a symbol of pride and joy in Washington Park.

“They can see hope. They can see that our communities matter. That’s what it is, ”said Donna Hampton-Smith, president of the Washington Park Chamber of Commerce.

Now that tree has been destroyed, and Hampton-Smith says this marks the third year in a row the tree has suffered catastrophic damage.

She says that in 2019 the tree was run over by a vehicle and the tree caught fire in 2020.

This time, surveillance cameras were rolling when the artificial tree caught fire around 5 a.m. on Sunday. The fire quickly engulfed the tree and smoke billowed from the burning tree, drifting across the street to a nearby gas station.

“Everything that we were trying to prevent from happening has happened,” said gas station owner Mustafa Hammad.

Hammad said his cameras had recently been adjusted to face the Christmas tree after the incidents of the past two years, hoping this would deter or catch any malicious individual.

Even still, Chicago Police initially said they were not investigating a foul play, but now have changed course, saying the fire inspector’s office has started investigating the incident.

“The video says otherwise,” said Hampton-Smith. “I do not believe it.”

House officials say one person is shown in the video walking from the gas station to the tree shortly before the tree’s lights went out, and sparks were visible during this time .

“This person did not come to the gas station. He’s crossed the street (and) he’s walking around that tree, ”Hammad said.

Chicago Police say they are aware of the video and the incident is still under investigation.

“It’s an attack on our community. You are stealing from people, ”said Hampton-Smith.

Meanwhile, the Chamber of Commerce said the city of Chicago is helping replace the tree and hopes to complete the work this weekend. Plans for additional security are still being worked out on Monday evening.

NBC Chicago

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