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Smoke from 'spectacular' Little Cal swamp fire could be seen for miles

Smoke from 'spectacular' Little Cal swamp fire could be seen for miles

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HIGHLAND — A swamp fire raged for hours in Northwest Indiana on Sunday, producing smoke that could be seen from several miles away.

The fire took place in swampland south of the Little Calumet River in Highland near the border of Hammond, Griffith and Gary.

The highly visible fire burned for most of the afternoon just southwest of the Cline Avenue exit on the Borman Expressway. Smoke was seen in many neighboring communities.

"The swamp was on fire and it was pretty spectacular," Highland Fire Department Chief Bill Timmer said. "The cattails and weeds were burning. We got reports that it could be seen in Munster, Schererville and Hammond."

Authorities were flooded with multiple calls about the blaze, which Timmer said was the first time the swamp south of the Little Calumet River has caught fire in 15 to 20 years. The Highland, Griffith, Hammond and Lake Ridge fire departments sent about 15 trucks to battle the 10-acre blaze.

"We surrounded it on all four sides to keep it contained, and then just hit it with water," he said.

Police from Griffith, Highland and Hammond, including officers from the Griffith VEST auxiliary program, assisted by controlling traffic around the scene. Hammond EMA, Highland VIPS, and the Munster fire department also assisted.

"We had a lot of help," Timmer said. "The sheriff sent a helicopter and we had drones."

Firefighters battled the blaze for four hours before getting it under control at about 6 p.m. Timmer said a few spots were still smoldering but were surrounded by water and could not be accessed.

"I'm going to say it was finally contained," he said. 

The helicopter served as an eye in the sky but did not end up having to deploy any water buckets, Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez said.

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So how does a swamp, a low-lying wetland where plants are submerged in water, catch on fire? Especially after the Little Cal has had high water levels after heavy rains in May, filling the swamp with more water?

"I wish I knew that," Timmer said. "It's basically environmental conditions. We have had dry sun for a few days with the wind blowing around, but we don't know exactly how the fire started."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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