Hammond bar demolished after suspected arson fires

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HAMMOND | City officials demolished a bar Wednesday that served as the scene of the city’s most recent homicide after two suspected arson fires there in less than 24 hours.

Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Margraf said firefighters were called at 10 a.m. Tuesday to Estrella’s Bar, 4704 Hohman Ave. for a report of smoke coming from the building.

When fire crews entered, Margraf said they smelled a strong odor of gasoline throughout the upstairs of the building. The fire was extinguished quickly, he said, and fire inspectors took samples from the scene to test for the presence of accelerants.

The utilities were turned off at the building in the interest of firefighter and public safety, he said.

At 2:19 a.m. Wednesday, firefighters returned to the bar for another report of smoke. Firefighters arrived and set up a ladder truck.

The masonry building was quickly fully engulfed in flames, Margraf said.

“It was just a hard thing to put out,” Margraf said.

The main floor in the bar area collapsed into the basement, and chiefs pulled crews from the building for their safety, he said.

The building was all but destroyed by the fire. Margraf said building inspectors deemed the site a public safety hazard and quickly began the demolition process.

Fire crews left the scene around 9:30 a.m., he said.

People appeared to be living above the bar, Margraf said. Four or five bedrooms and one bathroom were located upstairs.

No one was injured in either of the blazes.

Estrella’s Bar was the scene of the city’s last homicide on Aug. 17. Raudel Contreras Jr., 26, of Hammond was wounded when someone entered the bar and opened fire. He was the only person hit by gunfire and it was not clear if he was the intended target.

Contreras died two days later at a Chicago-area hospital.