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WATCH NOW: 4 neighboring homes severely damaged in fire, State Fire Marshal called to investigate
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WATCH NOW: 4 neighboring homes severely damaged in fire, State Fire Marshal called to investigate

From the ICYMI: Here are the most-read stories from the past week series

GARY — A rash of fires caused severe damage to four houses, rallying firefighters to battle the blazes for hours Friday afternoon. 

First responders were called at 12:45 p.m. Friday to the area of Fourth Avenue and Jackson Street, said Gary Fire Department Deputy Chief Mark Jones.

One of the homes was occupied, but the other three were vacant. There were no reported injuries to civilians or firefighters, Jones said. 

The fires caused extensive damage to the houses. As of Friday afternoon, crews were working to overhaul the scene, in which firefighters doused any remaining hot spots after flames have been extinguished. 

"We've been working tirelessly," Jones said. "It has been busy this year, but we are sworn to duty."

Jones said the cause of the fires remains under investigation. The State Fire Marshal's Office was also called to investigate. 

The Gary Police Department assisted at the scene with traffic control. Gary Cmdr. Jack Hamady said it appears the wind had caused the spread of the fires from one home to the next. At this time, there is not an arson or suspicious fire investigation being conducted by Gary police. 

Join Tristan DeFord, Jami Rieck, and Nancy Zakutanksky on a shift working for Superior Ambulance in Merrillville.

Hamady said the investigations into the city's previous rashes of suspicious fires is ongoing. Several structures in the city burned April 21 and May 1; those fires were considered to be suspicious by authorities. 

On May 1 and 2, Gary firefighters battled blazes at 17 vacant buildings in 11 different locations, mostly in the Midtown and downtown areas, Fire Chief Sean O'Donnell previously said. There were no injuries but several structures were destroyed or severely damaged. 

A previous group of seven fires on April 21 was also considered to be suspicious.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting police and the fire department in the ongoing investigations. Representatives of the ATF did not immediately respond to The Times' inquiries. 

Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter previously said arson can carry a possible penalty of up to 20 years in prison and that if the fires are determined to be arson, his office is committed to bringing those responsible to justice.

"We will seek the highest penalty under state law," Carter told The Times.

Gary leaders and public safety officials have said that the suspicious fires have strained city resources and created a danger to first responders. Gary Chief of Police Brian Evans said beyond the damage of property, firefighter's lives have been put at risk. 

Hamady said a person of interest in the fire investigation has been taken into custody, but no one has been formally charged as of Friday.

Anyone with information on the fires has been asked to call 888-ATF-FIRE or email ATFtips@ATF.gov. To remain anonymous, call 866-CRIME-GP.

Times 

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Night Crime/Breaking News Reporter

Anna Ortiz is the breaking news/crime reporter for The Times, covering crime, politics, courts and investigative news. She is a graduate of Ball State University with a major in journalism and minor in anthropology. 219-933-4194, anna.ortiz@nwi.com

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