Picking Up the Pieces

Life is slowly returning to normal near the site of one of the largest fires in University Park history.

A massive blaze Aug. 12 completely destroyed Goff’s Hamburgers at the intersection of Hillcrest Avenue and McFarlin Blvd.

The two-story 1924 building the restaurant occupied was also home to Taylormark, La Bichette, The Newman Law Firm, J. Wilson Fuqua & Associates Architects, and David Kemp Tutoring Services. These businesses were forced to temporarily relocate. According to city officials, the building’s owner has expressed a desire to rebuild, but so far, there is no timeframe for reconstruction.

Surrounding buildings survived but sustained varying amounts of damage.

McCartney’s University Spirit Store, which shared a wall with the Goff’s building, did not have any fire damage. A firewall stopped flames from spreading. However, the store did suffer extensiver water and ceiling damage.

“It was the hardest thing of my professional life,” co-owner Carolyn McCartney-Culbert said. On the day of the fire, she had just returned from a trip to Hawaii. She recalls telling co-workers that it was the best the store had ever looked. Three hours later, the fire was raging.

“I should have taken a picture,” Culbert said.

McCartney’s remained closed until Oct. 1, missing out on lucrative back-to-school business and parents weekend. Culbert, who has lived in Highland Park for 26 years, said she has never seen anything like this close to home. Still, she is grateful that things weren’t worse.

“Nobody died, and those firefighters risked their lives for all those hours,” Culbert said. “We’ve received such great support from everyone. People are swarming in. It really shows that small town feeling.”

Olivella’s on McFarlin Avenue was one of the first businesses to reopen. The popular pizza spot suffered water, roof, and glass damage, but was able to open its doors by Sept. 2. Business is slowly getting back up to speed.

“We were completely flooded, but that division [in the wall] saved us,” Olivella’s employee Jose Esquivel said. “If that wasn’t there, we would have gone down.

The exact cause of the fire remains unknown. Flames were first spotted coming from a vent that serviced Goff’s. The intense heat of the fire destroyed so much that there was little left for fire officials to investigate. The charred remains had to be cleared almost immediately for safety reasons and to ensure there were no remaining hot spots that could reignite.

“We will bounce back,” Culbert said. “We are thrilled, but I’m still hurting for my neighbors.

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