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Electrical Fire Closes Courthouse In Gary

CHICAGO (STMW) -- A small electrical fire Thursday at the Lake County Courthouse in Gary forced the evacuation of the building and will force its closure until at least Sept. 3.

The fire comes one day after county commissioners and council members in a joint meeting decided to bond $12 million for Department of Justice-mandated repairs at the jail, road and bridge work, and maintenance and repairs at various county buildings, including the courthouse.

It also is the second evacuation of a county building in as many weeks. The A building at the Lake County Government Center in Crown Point was evacuated Aug. 19 after a smoldering ember left from welders working in the new E-911 center pushed smoke throughout the ventilation system. The building reopened the following day.

Commission President Michael Repay, D-Hammond, said it does not appear the fire is related to the repairs the county's building superintendent Bob Rehder said are needed at the building and are under consideration for funding with the bond revenues.

The Gary Fire Department was called Thursday around 10 a.m. for the small electrical fire at the courthouse.

"The employees were evacuated safely and the fire was contained," Repay said.

Several pieces of the building's electrical systems were severely damaged.

"As a result of the smoke damage and extensive repairs that will be necessary the building will be closed for the remainder of the week and is not likely to reopen for business before Wednesday, Sept. 3," Repay said.

The stench of smoke filled the darkened hallways of the courthouse. County and City of Gary building department officials, working with an electrical and fire damage cleanup contractors, assessed the damage but refused to allow a reporter to photograph the area in a sub-basement where the fire began.

"The fire knocked out all the power in the building a little after 9 a.m., knocked out the communications systems, the phone systems and it caused a lot of smoke damage in the building," said Commisser Roosevelt Allen. "We got everybody out. It's just there's a lot of repair that has to be done because of the smoke damage and damage to the electrical system in the building."

All other courthouses will remain open and adhere to the regular schedule.

No one at the Gary Fire Department could immediately be reached for comment.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2014. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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