Chesterton Tribune

Photos: Huge night fire levels Accucast plant here

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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)




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, Jimenez said.

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 hydraulic cylinder.

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 heavy smoke.

“Exposure protection” was conducted, to use Jimenez’s term, that is, the surrounding buildings were carefully monitored for signs of spreading but none occurred.

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 cost.”

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.”


Posted 9/21/2007