Chesterton Tribune

Cause of AccuCast fire may never be known

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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 anything.

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.

The Aerial

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 overhead.

“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 outrigger arm.

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.


Posted 9/28/2007