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Fire destroys Hickory Ridge building in Merrillville

Ross Township assistant battalichief Ryan McGee radios call (left) as Rich Constructiworkers Dave BurtRick Tiemens (right) get ready board up

Ross Township assistant battalion chief Ryan McGee radios a call (left) as Rich Construction workers Dave Burton and Rick Tiemens (right) get ready to board up some of the remaining windows after an early morning fire severely damaged an apartment building at Hickory Ridge Lake apartments in Merrillville, Ind. Tuesday September 6, 2011. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 9, 2011 11:21AM



MERRILLVILLE — Firefighters struggled to get adequate water pressure to fight an early Tuesday morning fire at Hickory Ridge Lake Apartments that caused more than $1 million in damage and sent a firefighter to the hospital because of smoke inhalation.

The fire, which one resident said started in a second-floor apartment on the south side of one of the units at 55th Avenue and Garfield Street, displaced dozens of residents in the 36-unit complex.

Ross Township Fire Service Deputy Marshal Philip Topor said two residents were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation. He didn’t identify the Merrillville/Ross Township firefighter taken to the hospital.

“I woke up and smelled something, and at first I thought my husband was cooking,” said Gail Thomas who’s lived at Hickory Ridge since 1997. She said she could hear a young neighbor saying her bedroom was on fire. “When she opened the door to the hallway, that’s all she wrote,” said Thomas of the blazing fire.

Topor said there was “an issue” with the water supply at the site. He said firefighters couldn’t get adequate pressure to battle the blaze at the private complex. He said by the time firefighters arrived, flames engulfed 50 percent of the building. “We were already at a disadvantage.”

Topor said investigators still haven’t determined where the fire started.

Hickory Ridge, located at 1718 West 55th Ave., has been plagued by fires because its buildings lack fire stops and sprinkler systems, said Topor. They were built before the state code went into effect that required them, Topor said.

Resident Nina Morland, who just moved in July 8, said she woke up about 1 a.m.

“We came out and watched the building burn for 30 minutes before they put water on it. Gary dropped a line to a hydrant in front of the pool.”

Morland, whose apartment is at the far north end of the unit away from the source of the fire, said water damage caved in her ceilings. “Everything in my living room and dining room is ruined. But we were blessed, we got a chance to salvage some things.”

Arthur Hills lugged a mattress out a side window as he retrieved belongings with other residents. He said his daughter told him about the fire while he was at work. A light hung limply from his dining room ceiling and insulation fell out. He figured his 82-inch TV was a goner.

Meanwhile, other residents descended on the management office to try to get another apartment.

A representative for Bluestone Properties, which owns the complex, declined to comment. She said the company would have a statement later in the day.

Reach Carole Carlson at 648-3154.



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