EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - Authorities in the Stratmoor community just south of Colorado Springs confirmed that the effort to extinguish two house fires on Thursday night was slowed by frozen hydrants.
Fire Chief Jerame Bullard and Kirk Medina, manager of the Stratmoor Water District, said Friday that cold temperatures this week froze caps covering spouts on hydrants near fires on Maxwell Street and Sherwood Drive.
"It's not unusual," Bullard said. "Sometimes we use road flares to thaw them out. At one house, the problem was not getting water out of the larger of three spouts on a hydrant."
That happened at the fire on Sherwood Drive, where a house owned by Stratmoor firefighter Jim Light was destroyed.
"But in both fires, the frozen hydrants had little effect on us," Bullard said. "We were eventually able to get water from the smaller spouts, and some of our trucks carry several hundred gallons of water."
In late 2012, a similar incident happened in the same neighborhood. A home occupied by a family of four was destroyed after one hydrant froze and another was broken and never repaired.
"I wasn't here then," Medina said. "But we've learned to take our hydrant maintenance more seriously. Every hydrant is inspected annually, and we're replacing old hydrants with new ones."
Medina said little can be done to keep hydrants from freezing.
"But we're looking at using a different kind of oil to screw the caps on, so that firefighters have easier access to them," he said."
Light is a 30-year veteran of the Stratmoor Hills Fire Department. A GoFundMe page has been set up on his behalf.
Bullard said Light was at headquarters dispatching crews to the Maxwell Street fire when the call for the Sherwood Drive fire came in.
"He's still shaken up and trying to get everything in order," Bullard said. "It's going to be a long process."
Some neighbors said they were concerned about the Sherwood Drive fire because of trees, thick brush and other materials in the yard that could have ignited and spread the fire to surrounding homes.
One neighbor, Thomas Schneider, confirmed that fear.
"A lot of places are junked up with clutter," he said. "If people would keep up their properties, we wouldn't have that issue. (Fire safety) is not just the Fire Department's responsibility or the Water District's responsibility. It's everyone's responsibility."