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
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
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
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
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
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.