EAST CHICAGO — A flash explosion at T.A.C. East, Inc. Wednesday morning sent a large plume of black smoke into the air.
Chief Anthony Serna said fire crews arrived on scene at 2000 E. Gary Road three minutes after the initial call about 7:20 a.m. and battled the blaze for several hours.
Serna said the explosion originated in the garage portion of the business, which is attached to a two-story office space.
The fire was extinguished at 12:30 p.m., and the garage and office building are both a total loss.
"All I can say is that our East Chicago firefighters did an excellent job," Serna said. "Our first concern is with any potential rescues and then focus on the fire. They did great work out there."
Serna said while the fire was originally believed to be sparked by a boiler explosion, it could have also originated from chemicals used to clean the boilers. The cause of the explosion is still being investigated.
Three male employees were injured, suffering first, second and third-degree burns to their arms and legs, Serna said. All are in stable condition and were transported from Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus in Gary to the burn unit at Loyola University Medical Care Center in Maywood, Illinois.
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One firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion at St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago and is expected to be released Wednesday evening. No other injuries were reported.
“We’re thankful employees just received burns to extremities,” Serna said. "And there weren't any fatalities."
The flames spread past the garage to the office space and firefighters vigilantly put out hot spots in the garage because it was full of fuel and chemical containers, Serna said. An aerial tower was used to spray water onto the office building.
Serna said all East Chicago crews were on site. Hammond and Gary fire departments also gave assistance.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management staff at the scene Wednesday determined there is no ongoing environmental threat from the fire, said Sarah Bonick, IDEM director of external relations.
Check back at nwi.com for updates as this story develops.