Chesterton Tribune

Old Bethlehem Steel lodge in Jackson Township burns to the ground

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The old—and long vacant—Bethlehem Steel hunting lodge in Jackson Township burned to the ground on Monday in a fire whose cause remains undetermined, the Liberty Township Volunteer Fire Department said.

No firefighters were injured, although in the extreme heat and humidity special measures were taken to ensure that they were properly spelled and hydrated, LTVFD Assistant Chief Tom Shapen told the Chesterton Tribune today.

The alarm came in at 4:07 p.m., Shapen said, and on firefighters’ arrival the lodge—at 1035N 550E—was already completely involved.

Access to the site proved problematic, Shapen noted. A “very narrow strip” of road, essentially cutting through bog, forced firefighters to carry their equipment to the scene by hand and slowed the initial response.

Lack of a nearby hydrant also hindered the effort, and a tanker plan was called under which tankers shuttled water to the scene from a hydrant located near the Family Express on U.S. Highway 6 in Westville, Shapen said.

Assisting fire departments: Westville, Chesterton, Pine Township, Washington Township, and Cool Spring Township, each of which provided at least one tanker. Also responding: Porter EMS personnel, who did an excellent job keeping firefighters hydrated, Shapen said.

Total gallons used to fight the blaze: 21,500.

One other peculiarity about the scene: although electrical service had been shut off to the building, a natural-gas line had not, Shapen said, so the LTVFD had to wait until a NIPSCO crew had located, excavated, and capped the line before clearing, which it did at 9:19 p.m.

Not much was left today of the heavy-timber building, built the better part of a half-century ago for use by Bethlehem Steel employees, Shapen said. “It would have been a beautiful building back in the day. Now it’s just a hole in the ground. Everything fell into the basement.”

Indeed, the total destruction of the lodge means that the cause of the fire will likely never be determined, Shapen said. Not only has the structure been largely consumed but it’s also collapsed in on itself and investigators would be unable safely to access the site. “There’s a risk involved.”

In any case, the property owners—whom Shapen identified as the Saylor family—indicated that a full-blown investigation by the Porter County Fire Investigation Strike Team is unnecessary. “It’s a very derelict building. It wasn’t secured. It wasn’t being used for anything.”

“There were no injuries from fighting the fire and no heat-related injuries,” Shapen added. “It was extremely hot and humid. But everyone was rotating out regularly for rehab.”


Posted 7/17/2012