LAKE STATION — One firefighter was hospitalized and another was treated for heat exhaustion Tuesday after a fire tore through a shopping center, destroying a majority of the 10 businesses inside, a fire official said.
Lake Station firefighters were dispatched about 12:30 a.m. to the shopping center in the 2600 block of Central Avenue after a business owner reported fire coming from the roof, Fire Chief Chuck Fazekas said.
The first firefighters to arrive saw flames through the roof and went inside, but had to back out because the roof began to cave in, he said.
Nancy Guzman, owner of Nancy’s Cafe, one of the businesses in the center, and her daughter-in-law Jessica Cox said they heard about the fire shortly after it started and spent much of the night watching the building burn as rain fell.
“It was crazy,” Cox said, describing what she saw when she first arrived. “It was all completely engulfed all the way down.”
Firefighters communicated with those affected and were supportive throughout the night, they said.
“They did such a great job,” Guzman said.
The family said about 9:45 a.m. they had just returned to the scene after going home to change out of wet clothing.
The businesses in the building shared a common attic space, which allowed the fire to spread quickly. A south wind helped push the fire through the attic, Fazekas said.
The building contained an old, wood bowstring truss, which hindered firefighters' efforts, he said.
Fourteen fire departments offered assistance, and up to four ladder trucks sprayed water down on the building at one time.
Lake Station went to a tanker plan, because the need for water began to put a strain on the city's water system, Fazekas said. City officials turned on more pumps at 3 a.m. to assist.
Firefighters had the blaze under control by 4 or 4:30 a.m., and continued working to put out hot spots until about 9:45 a.m.
One Lake Station firefighter was hospitalized for heat exhaustion, and another was treated and released at the scene, Fazekas said.
The fire's cause and origin remained under investigation. The damage was so extensive within three of the businesses, firefighters didn't even have a general idea of where the fire might have started, Fazekas said.
The fire department planned to bring in heavy equipment to help sift through the damage.
"We don't see it as suspicious at this time," he said.
The businesses in the middle of the center are a total loss, he said. A few on the east and west ends of the building sustained smoke and water damage.
Nancy's Cafe sustained smoke and water damage, and a wall inside was burned and knocked down, Guzman said.
"We just went shopping yesterday and bought tons of food," she said.
She anticipated it all would have to be thrown away because the power had been shut off overnight. She had a call in to her insurance company, and was waiting for an insurance adjuster to arrive.
Cox said firefighters described the damage inside Nancy's Cafe to the family.
“There’s bread floating on the floor, because there’s so much water,” she said.
Guzman hoped to reopen her restaurant, if the building’s owner decides to rebuild. The owner had to cut short his vacation because of the fire, she said.
Fire departments that assisted included Gary, Portage, Hobart, New Chicago, Lowell, Merrillville, Lake Dalecarlia, Lake Hills, Lakes of the Four Seasons, Crown Point, South Haven, Boone Grove, Union Township and Liberty Township.