Chesterton Tribune

Photos: Indiana Dunes State Park (Un)controlled burn jumps fence to Porter Beach

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Ridge on fire: A planned 26 acre controlled burn jumped a control line Monday, burning an estimated additional 25 acres in the Indiana Dunes State Park and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore before being brought under control. Most of the horizon is in flames in this photo. A small boxed area has had the contrast heightened to show two firefighters approaching the fire line.

Fighting fire: A Firefighter tries to bring a runaway wildfire under control along the border of Indiana Dunes State Park and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore at Porter Beach Monday. Eight area fire departments responded when a State Park water pump failed during a planned burn.

Carrying water in: One of the firefighting methods used Monday to fight a wildfire in Indiana Dunes State Park was portable water packs carried on firefighters’ backs. Here Porter firefighter Brian Mulholland gets his water pack filled by Jason Bogue. Also pictured is firefighter Jenny Kelly. A controlled burn jumped the barrier line and eight fire departments responded to bring the blaze under control.

Wall of fire: A wall of fire threatens homes in Porter Beach within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Monday. Firefighters from eight different area departments responded to subdue the controlled burn gone wild. Firefighters stopped the fire before it reached area homes. No property damage was reported. (Tribune photos by Margaret L. Willis)



A controlled burn near the site of the proposed new inn at the Indiana Dunes State Park on Monday got out of control, engulfing an estimated 25 acres not originally planned to be burned.

Indiana Dunes State Park Property Manager Brandt Baughman said a wind shift caused the fire to jump the control line, but then the fire spread after a pump malfunctioned.

“Initially, we were on top of it,” he said, adding, though, that after the pump temporarily malfunctioned, the fire got away from the state park fire crew.

The fire crossed over the state park boundary and burned a narrow strip in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Baughman said. The fire approached some leaseback homes within the National Lakeshore’s Porter Beach, but no houses or other structures were damaged. No injuries occurred.

Baughman credited the help of firefighters from outside agencies for preventing damage to the homes by placing wet lines, or wetting the areas in front of the houses.

“Fortunately, we had excellent support,” he said of the firefighters called to assist.

Agencies that assisted included the fire departments from Chesterton, Porter, Burns Harbor, Liberty Township, Pine Township, Ogden Dunes, Beverly Shores, and the National Lakeshore.

The National Lakeshore had its own controlled burn scheduled for Monday and closed the Dune Ridge Trail in preparation. National Lakeshore crews got as far as conducting a test burn when they received word of the out-of-control burn at the State Park and went to assist. The National Lakeshore’s burn had been rescheduled for today, and the Dune Ridge Trail was once again closed.

The state park’s controlled burn was originally scheduled for 26 acres near the site of the proposed new inn. Baughman said the fire was for resource management purposes in order to rid the land of invasive species that aren’t fire resistant. The burn plan has been in place for more than year and had nothing to do with preparations for the inn or for the meeting that will be held on Wednesday with potential inn developers, he said.

“One has nothing to do with the other,” he said.

Not all of the initial 26 acres planned to be burned were actually burned, since the fire crews stopped the burning in the control area when the fire spread, engulfing an estimated 25 additional acres to the west.

The burn on Monday was the first controlled burn of the year at the Dunes State Park and won’t necessarily be the last, Baughman said.

But because controlled burns are so highly dependent on wind and temperatures, he could not say when the next burn will take place. However, he did say that all other burns are more within the interior of the state park and are not near the park’s boundary.

The fire was brought under control in about one and a half hours, Baughman said, though he and other state park officials stayed on the scene until about 10:30 p.m. to ensure that nothing would re-ignite.

Baughman said that to the best of his knowledge, the acreage that burned Monday had never been burned before and was actually badly in need of a controlled fire. So even though the controlled burn went awry, he said the land that was affected will end up benefiting.

Controlled burns, also called “prescribed burns,” remove accumulated dead plant material, in turn reducing the threat of uncontrolled wild fires and promoting the healthy growth of native plants.


Posted 4/11/2006