By KEVIN NEVERS
The cause of the fire which leveled the AccuCast Industries facility one week
ago today, on Sept. 21, in all likelihood will never be known.
Lt. Rudy Jimenez of the Chesterton Fire Department, lead investigator, told
the Chesterton Tribune on Thursday that the cause of the fire has been
officially listed as “undetermined.”
Jimenez attributed the difficulty in investigating the cause to two factors.
First, the building itself, the old Pioneer Lumbar showroom at 502 Grant
Ave., was simply destroyed by the blaze and along with it any evidence, say,
of an electrical problem which could have started the fire.
Second, and unavoidably, vast amounts of debris were moved from their
original orientation in the building by the excavator called to the scene to
expose hot spots in the hours after the CFD, and nine other responding
departments, had knocked the fire down.
“Obviously,” Jimenez said, “it could have been anything from an electrical
fire to some sort of equipment failure.”
Jimenez did say that the owner of AccuCast, Mark Hurson, was asked about the
integrity of the building’s wiring and the condition of his equipment. Hurson
advised investigators that he had experienced some inconvenience caused by
rodents chewing low-voltage wiring, like telephone lines, but Jimenez said
that faults in such wiring would nevertheless have been incapable of igniting
There was absolutely no indication either, Jimenez emphasized, of a
suspicious cause. A specially trained canine was unable to detect any trace
of an accelerant and investigators found nothing at all anomalous.
The building itself, owned by John Curley, was insured at between $275,000
and $325,000, Jimenez said, while the business was insured for $500,000.
Meanwhile, Deputy Fire Chief Mike Orlich discussed the status of the
department’s aerial, after a Tribune reader wondered why the story in the
Sept. 21 edition stated that the aerial was out of service when an
accompanying photograph of the scene itself showed the aerial deployed around
7:30 a.m. that day and a firefighter in the basket dousing hot spots from
“It is out of service,” Orlich said. “And it was out of service.” The
problem: a leaking hydraulic cylinder in one of the outriggers which
stabilizes the aerial when the ladder is extended. That leaking cylinder
makes the outrigger “much more liable to failure,” Orlich explained, and for
that reason the Valparaiso and Portage fire departments were mustered, over
the course of two alarms, to dispatch their aerials to the scene for the
initial fire attack and exposure protection.
After the fire “had been knocked down to a smoldering state,” Orlich
said—hours after the first call at around 12:30 a.m.—the Valparaiso and
Portage firefighters were released to return to their stations. But an
elevated platform was still needed to extinguish hot spots not accessible by
hose lines from the ground.
So the CFD reluctantly deployed its own aerial, sometime around 6:30 or 7
a.m., Orlich said. He added that the service contractor which does all
repairs on the aerial had previously okayed its use so long as a safety pin
was inserted into the outrigger arm to prevent its potential failure. “But we
shouldn’t have to rely on a built-in safety feature for an unexpected
problem,” Orlich said.
At the same time, he noted, the remote control nozzle in the basket also
failed, so the basket was manned by a firefighter to manually control the
nozzle from overhead. Again, Orlich said, the service contractor had okayed
the manning of the basket so long as the safety pin was inserted into the
At its meeting Monday night, the Town Council voted unanimously to create an
ad hoc committee to investigate possible funding sources for a new aerial.
Fire Chief Warren “Skip” Highwood has estimated the cost of a new one at
around $700,000 or $800,000.