Chesterton Tribune

Fire destroys building at POCO 15th St storage facility

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Burned to the ground: Chesterton firefighters were on the scene this morning investigating the cause of the blaze which destroyed Paulson Oil Company’s bio-diesel fuel storage facility at 300 N. 15th Street late on Wednesday. Fire Chief Mike Orlich called the building itself a total loss estimated at $150,000. But it contained an inventory at the time valued at between $500,000 and $750,000, he said. Both the Norfolk-Southern and CSX track lines—the POCO facility is sited squarely between them—were closed to rail traffic for around 90 minutes so that firefighters could string hoses across the tracks. (Tribune photo by Margaret Willis)

 

From a safe distance: A ladder truck—either Chesterton’s or Burns Harbor’s—pours water into Paulson Oil Company’s bio-diesel fuel storage facility at 300 N. 15th Street late Wednesday night. The water attack served two purposes, Chesterton Fire Chief Mike Orlich said: to knock down the blaze but also to keep the multiple large-capacity fuel tanks cool. Although the risk of explosion was not as high as might be thought, Orlich noted—diesel is less flammable than gasoline and the tanks themselves were vented—there was enough concern to keep firefighting operations as far from the building as possible, hence the use of the ladder trucks. (Photo by Alex Zaideman)

 

By KEVIN NEVERS

The bio-diesel storage facility at Paulson Oil Company—POCO—burned to the ground late Wednesday night in a fire whose caused remained undetermined this morning.

There were no injuries, there were no explosions, and there were no major fuel leaks, but total loss and damage could approach $1 million, the Chesterton Fire Department said this morning.

The CFD initially responded at 10:09 p.m. to a report of a working structure fire at POCO, located at 300 N. 15th Street, between the Norfolk Southern grade-crossing to the south and the CSX crossing to the north.

Fire Chief Mike Orlich was first on the scene and he immediately reported the pole-barn constructed facility to be fully involved, Lt. Brent Valpatic told the Chesterton Tribune today.

Ultimately assisting the CFD were the Porter, Burns Harbor, Liberty Township, Beverly Shores, Portage, Valparaiso, South Haven, and Washington Township departments.

The main thrust of the attack was aerial, with Chesterton’s ladder truck and Burns Harbor’s flowing water on the blaze from above, Valpatic said, the CFD’s stationed at the northwest corner of the facility and the BHFD’s at the southwest. The Portage and Valparaiso departments also mustered their ladder trucks but neither was used.

A ground attack was mounted as well from a pumper.

Orlich’s first fear on arriving at the scene: the possibility of an explosion. The facility contains multiple permanently-mounted large-capacity bio-diesel fuel tanks. But diesel, Orlich noted, “has a lower flammability” than gasoline, and when informed by POCO officials that the tanks are vented—reducing the chance of any buildup in pressure—“my mind was eased a bit.”

The other possibility: extension of the fire not only to the semi-tractor tankers parked nearby but to POCO’s fleet maintenance building approximately 50 feet away and to surrounding properties, including L.A. Bell Motor Lines Inc. at 1499 Woodlawn Ave.

Firefighters focused their efforts accordingly at keeping the storage tanks and semi-tractor tankers doused and cool. They did catch one break: the three or so tankers parked nearest the fire were partially protected from the heat by a shipping container positioned between them and the building, Deputy Chief John Jarka said.

Another break: the storage tanks themselves were sited inside concrete perimeters designed to contain fuel leaks. Nevertheless, a hazmat team from the Porter County Environmental Department was dispatched to the scene and a system of pads and booms emplaced to contain what runoff there was, Valpatic said.

It’s possible that the fleet maintenance building sustained some heat damage, Orlich said—it was difficult in the dark to make any determination—but it was believed that surrounding properties escaped unscathed.

No evacuation of those properties was required.

The fire knock-down did throw a temporary crimp into the schedules of the Norfolk-Southern and CSX railroads, however, since firefighters were forced to string hoses across both track lines from a pair of hydrants, one at Broadway, the other at Woodlawn Ave.

From 10:35 p.m. to 12:05 a.m. both lines were closed to rail traffic, Orlich said, while Amtrak—which operates on the northernmost of the three track lines—was asked to reduce its trains to “a very slow speed.”

Orlich reckoned that a total of 160,000 gallons of water was used to extinguish the blaze. The CFD cleared the scene at 1:56 a.m.

The CFD had not yet determined the cause of the fire but was at the scene today conducting an investigation.

POCO officials advised the CFD that between $500,000 and $750,000 worth of inventory was being stored at the facility at the time, Orlich said, while the building itself was a total loss estimated at $150,000.

The Paulson Oil Company was founded in 1956 by Robert Paulson but was sold in 2007 to Maxum Petroleum of Old Greenwich, Conn. It supplies motor fuels and lubricants—the latter stored at a different facility in Chesterton, on Wabash Ave.—to commercial and industrial customers throughout Northern Indiana and the greater Chicago area.

 

 

Posted 7/15/2010