A total loss: Flames pour through the roof early this
morning at the facility of Accucast Industries Inc. at 502 Grant Ave., the
old Pioneer Lumber showroom and offices. A total of nine fire departments
fought the blaze but only smoking rubble was left this morning. No one was
hurt in the fire. Its cause remains undetermined.
(Photos by Ryan Kwiecinski)
By KEVIN NEVERS
The old Pioneer Lumber showroom at 502 Grant Ave.—now home to Accucast
Industries Inc.—burned to the ground early this morning in the largest, most
destructive blaze in the Town of Chesterton since the old St. Patrick
Catholic Church was destroyed in August 1998.
At 7:30 a.m. a row of exhausted firefighters, sooty, wet, some of them
nodding off, rested on the other side of the street, squatting against the
old Pioneer lumberyard and watching as an aerial continued to pour water on
the smoking rubble.
For the better part of seven hours they had been laying hose lines in the
miserably cramped quarters of Grant Ave.—“butt to muzzle” is how Deputy Fire
Chief Mike Orlich described the scene—and listening for more explosions as
propane tanks inside the building, one by one, popped.
No firefighter was injured, Lt. Rudy Jimenez told the Chesterton Tribune,
although one with a pre-existing medical condition was treated by EMS
personnel from Porter hospital.
The initial call came in around 12:30 a.m. as “heavy smoke in an industrial
building,” and indeed the first firefighters on the scene saw no flames at
all through the windows by the roof line on Grant Ave. Only after breaking a
window and standing on a truck parked in front of the building were they able
to observe flames “rolling across” the ceiling near the second story attic,
That attic was full of wooden casts for the concrete casting in which
Accucast Industries specializes, Jimenez said. “So there was a huge fire load
in that building.”
But not just wooden casts. Also a large amount of Styrofoam packing material,
Jimenez added, which “burns really, really well.” And, of course, the propane
tanks, at least four or five of them.
“It was a very difficult fire to fight,” Jimenez remarked.
Still, Jimenez, the lead investigator on this fire, emphasized that at this
point he has no idea either how the blaze started or where. He was planning
on meeting a State Fire Marshall later this morning— whose assistance the CFD
has opted to seek given the extent of the fire—and conducting a walk-through
of the scene as soon as it was safe to do so.
Virtually every fire department in Porter County, nine of them, and a total
of 68 firefighters responded to the scene over two alarms. Porter and Liberty
Township Volunteer responded automatically under their mutual aid agreement
with the CFD. Then a first alarm called all off-duty Chesterton career
firefighters, an engine from Burns Harbor, and an aerial from Valparaiso. The
second alarm mustered Beverly Shores, Pine Township Volunteer, and South
Haven with engines, and Portage with an aerial. Finally tankers were called
to the scene from Washington Township Volunteer, as well as from Beverly
Shores, Pine, Pine, Liberty, and Valparaiso.
The CFD had particular need of the tankers, Jimenez said, because that part
of town—a very old part of town—is served by only a four-inch water main, and
there simply wasn’t enough water available from the nearest hydrant. In fact,
he noted, at a minimum a couple of 12- or 18-inch mains would have been
necessary to fight this fire.
“This is a terrible area of town because of the size of the water mains that
serve the area,” Orlich said.
So a tanker shuttle was established along Wabash Ave. and Fifth Street,
feeding the Portage aerial and Burns Harbor and Beverly Shores engines
stationed on Wabash Ave. and the Valparaiso aerial and CFD, Portage, and
Liberty engines stationed on Grant Ave.
As usual, the Chesterton aerial was out of service with a problem in a
Jimenez wasn’t able to estimate how much water finally was used except to say
tens of thousands of gallons.
Not only the scene itself was crowded, with a dozen or more vehicles, hose
lines, and scores of firefighters. Numerous residences—including an apartment
building and homes—surround and abut the Accucast Industries facility. And
though, in the end, residents were not evacuated, Chesterton and Porter
police officers knocked on doors in the middle of the night to apprise
occupants of the situation and advise them to stay inside because of the
“Exposure protection” was conducted, to use Jimenez’s term, that is, the
surrounding buildings were carefully monitored for signs of spreading but
Three trucks parked in front of the building, while scorched in places, were
also saved, Jimenez said.
Orlich, besides thanking everyone from the fire service, expressed his
gratitude as well to both the Chesterton and Porter police departments, the
Chesterton Street Department—whose offices and facilities are located just
west of the scene—Porter hospital EMS, and NIPSCO.
A NIPSCO crew, he especially noted, had “a very quick response” after being
dispatched to shut off power to the line serving the Accucast Industries
facility and arrived well in time to do so before live wires began burning
off the building.
Nevertheless, this morning 15 employees were without a place to work,
Accucast Industries owner Mark Hurson told Jimenez. He estimated his loss at
$500,000, Jimenez said, while the actual owner of the building, John Curley,
advised that the property itself is insured at between $275,000 to $325,000.
Nothing is left of that property but blackened timbers and tin sheeting.
Accucast Industries, according to its website, “is one of the Midwest’s
leading architectural wholesale cast stone manufacturers with distributors in
four states.” It specializes in Cast Stone, “a highly refined architectural
precast concrete building stone manufactured to simulate natural stone,
specifically designed to replace natural limestone at a fraction of the
There were no hazardous materials stored in the building, Jimenez said.
Had it not been for the prompt and professional response of Porter County’s
fire service, Orlich observed, the whole neighborhood might have gone up in
flames. “The outcome is that the building is a total loss and that’s awful.
But no other buildings were damaged. We could not have fought this fire
without the help of our mutual aid response, flat, period, end of story. Our
department just isn’t large enough to handle a fire of this magnitude.”