by: Natasha Chen Updated:
LAKE TAPPS, Wash. - Firefighters had a difficult time putting out a Lake Tapps fire Saturday night, as the nearest hydrant was half a mile away.
Jeff Marsh, who grew up in that house, said his daughter and parents were inside when the fire started. He said they were keeping warm by the fireplace, but noticed a small flame near the roof. A chimney fire then set the entire attic ablaze.
The home burned to its core, while the family inside at the time made it out safely.
The heat “was breaking all the strings in the piano, and it actually sounded like somebody was in here playing music,” Marsh said.
Monday, family members retrieved what they could from the rubble, including photo albums and Marsh’s grandmother’s wedding dress.
Chief Bud Backer of East Pierce Fire and Rescue said this is not the first time his team has encountered a house in the same area with limited access to hydrants. Last May, a home burned on a Lake Tapps island that had zero hydrants available. Crews had to pump in water from Lake Tapps and call a fire boat out on the lake to help their water supply.
Regarding Saturday night, Backer said, “It’s extremely frustrating.”
Backer described what one of his crew members told him: “We’re putting two hose lines of almost 500 gallons a minute, and he said the fire was just laughing at us.”
“We were all confused when they started fighting the fire, and all of a sudden, the water stopped. And we hear them yelling, ‘I’m out of water!’” Marsh said.
The Pierce County fire marshal, Warner Webb, told KIRO 7 that fire hydrants are only required when properties are smaller than one acre, because of the density of houses and people.
For land larger than one acre, property owners have a variety of choices to meet fire code: installing a sprinkler system, installing a monitored fire-alarm system, installing a fire hydrant, or having non-combustible siding. A combination of these strategies would meet the county’s requirements.
The house that burned Saturday, in the 1700 block of 217th Avenue Court East, was built in 1982, before the current fire code was created.
Its proximity to neighboring homes is close enough that Marsh said the community is considering how to improve fire safety for all.
But installing a fire hydrant at one’s home could cost tens of thousands of dollars.
To get this done, Webb said residents can band together to form a local improvement district with self-imposed fees.
“It’s a choice that you have to make, but it’s also a big sacrifice, because it costs a lot of money,” Marsh said.
Alternatively, Webb recommended that people install a good sprinkler system and a monitored fire-alarm system that automatically alerts the fire department in an emergency without waiting for a 911 call.
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