HAMMOND | Hammond fire officials are investigating the fifth arson fire in the city in nine days and believe at least three are related.
"We haven't had a rash of something like this in quite some time," Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Margraf said.
No one has been injured in any of the blazes. All but one of the buildings, which were being used as rental properties, were vacant.
Margraf said all of the buildings likely will have to be demolished.
Margraf said firefighters were called at 3 a.m. Tuesday to 855 State St. by a neighbor who reported hearing a pop and then seeing embers in the air.
When firefighters arrived, they found the rear of the two-story, brick two flat engulfed in flames.
Margraf said the property was vacant. No firefighters were injured in the blaze, which took more than two hours to extinguish.
The building appeared to be undergoing remodeling with new windows and other work. The property owner/landlord, who lives in Crete, was not able to be reached by fire officials early Tuesday, Margraf said.
The latest blaze follows four others in the same neighborhood since March 31. All of those fires occurred in the early morning hours just off of Calumet Avenue near the city's downtown.
The first fire was at 5714 Erie St. just before midnight on Easter.
"We believe we have a person of interest on that one from our investigation and the insurance company's investigation," Margraf said.
Three hours later, firefighters were called to a fire at a vacant building at 623 Sibley St.
On April 2, firefighters were called to a fire a the rear of a building at 950 State St. The tenants in that building, which was also a rental property, had to be evacuated.
Margraf said investigators also have a person or people of interest in mind in that blaze, which may have stemmed from a tenant dispute with a landlord.
Officers were called at 3 a.m. Sunday to 855 Sibley St. for a call of a fire in the rear of a vacant rental property.
Margraf said the fires on April 1, Sunday and Tuesday are all believed to be related and may involve the same offenders.
"It's all about the same time, all in the back of the house and all have been vacant," he said.
Hammond police Lt. Richard Hoyda said detectives are assisting the Hammond Fire Department in the investigations. No arrests had been made in any of the cases as of Tuesday afternoon, Hoyda said.
Margraf characterized the person or people setting the fires as "cowards."
"They don't think of the jeopardy they're putting our guys in for no reason," Margraf said. "The people on the street driving home from work, the neighbors, they don't think about them either."
Margraf said arsons are often about seeking revenge.
"It's a cowardly way to do it," he said.
Margraf said anyone with information about the fires is asked to call the Hammond Fire Department at (219) 853-6418. The information may be relayed anonymously, he said.