HOUSE FIRE — A home-owner’s attempts to thaw some frozen pipes led to a house fire on Route 26 south of the city Monday afternoon. No one was injured. (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)

Family of four escapes fire; homeowner trying to heat pipes

Published Jan 2, 2018 at 4:01pm

A family of four escaped injury when a fire torched their home on Route 26 on a very chilly New Year’s Day.

Fire officials said the home-owner was trying to unfreeze the pipes with a heat gun.

Home-owner Lorn Ferguson and three other adult family members were home at 6403 Route 26 when the fire started shortly after 1 p.m., officials said. The 2 1/2-story residence is located south of the city and just north of Dix Road, in the outer district.

“He was heating frozen pipes with a heat gun,” explained Deputy Fire Chief David L. Gratch this morning. The plastic PVC pipes were located in the basement and caught fire due to the heat, he stated.

“The fire went up through the first floor to the bathroom, lighting a plastic hot tub/bathtub on fire. Then it got into a couple of chase ways” and spread up to the second floor and the attic.

Ferguson noticed the smoke and flames and everyone fled the residence. The alarm was raised at 1:20 p.m.

“When we got there, smoke was coming out of almost every window of the house,” Gratch said. “Flames were coming out a first-floor window and going up the side of the building to the attic.”

Gratch said the firefighters launched an interior attack on the first and second floors and managed to knock down the bulk of the flames in about 15 minutes, but there were still many hot spots in the chase ways, walls and attic area. It took roughly another hour before the fire was declared fully under control.

“It’s not a total loss, but it is now uninhabitable,” Gratch explained. The four residents are staying with other family members. “They did have some cats that they couldn’t find.”

While fighting the fire, crews also had to deal with the intense cold, with temperatures hovering only around zero degrees.

“When you’re inside fighting the fire, you’re OK. But when you come out into the cold, covered in water, you instantly freeze,” the chief explained.

The engines and hose lines did not freeze over, but Gratch said the flowing water started freezing up on the walkaways both inside and outside of the residence.

“The floors were like skating rinks inside,” he stated. “Very treacherous, very slippery.”

No firefighters were injured in the cold, but the chief said there were some falls.

Deputy Chief Gratch advises anyone with frozen pipes to not try and thaw them with direct heat because it could start a fire. And if the pipe is already cracked and then frozen, unfreezing the cracked pipe could cause even more damage.

Gratch said you should use a space heater in the room to thaw the pipes, but don’t leave the space heater unattended.