Weather caused fire Tuesday morning

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sub-freezing temperatures, and the fluctuation to a warmer day and refreezing combined to cause a nominal fire Tuesday morning in Lewisburg, prompting advice from the fire chief.

As Chief Larry Williams explained what happened on Walnut Street, he urged residents to be careful and keep their equipment and chimneys maintained and fuel in safe places to avoid injury.

There have been no injuries as a result of several recent fires, but the cold weather has presented threats to life, limb and equipment.

"The pipe to the water heater froze and when it thawed, it broke," said DeVonna Webb of 930 Walnut St. "I guess it caused an electrical fire."

She was right about her 7 a.m. fire Tuesday.

"It shorted the water heater out," Williams said. "It smoked up the house a little."

The temperature was three degrees when Webb called 911, the chief said.

"We had to get the road department to put salt down for us because the water was freezing on the street," he said.

Comparatively speaking, "everything else was minor," the chief said reflecting on the fire Thursday that consumed Brown's Auto Center on Finley Beech Road.

"Repair shops are probably some of the most dangerous structures you get involved in, so we were fortunate that no one got hurt Thursday" during the fire at Brown's, Williams said.

During that fire, "A lady brought us 3-4 cases of water to the firemen," the chief said. "We have no idea who she is, but we sure would like to thank her because we really appreciate it and we'd like to thank her in person."

Meanwhile, Billy Brown said he plans to reopen the repair shop.

"I'm going to reopen as soon as they pay us the settlement," Brown said. "We'll build a four-bay metal building at the same place. Now, we're going to try to serve them at 803 Finley Beech Road and still operate and we'll still have the same phone number."

Asked how the fire started, Brown said, "They were taking the tank off and getting the gas out of it and they had to turn it and they dropped it."

Gasoline spilled on the garage floor seemed to explode when an errant spark ignited the fuel, according to Jeff Brown. Williams and another fireman confirmed the scenario is realistic, and that the men's escape proved the validity of the stop, drop and roll advice on how to extinguish flames when clothing is on fire.

However, the fuel didn't explode like napalm dropped on Vietnam, Williams said.

"By what they told me," the chief said, "when the tank failed, the gasoline splashed out of it, across the floor. I think it did catch a pants leg on fire.

"It's didn't explode," he said. "It was more like a flash, when it ignites."

As for observers' observations about Lewisburg Electric Service helping the fire department, Williams explained, "There wasn't enough room to operate the aerial truck between the wires and the building.

"It was too confined of an area for a 102-foot platform to be operating," he said of the long ladder truck. "We started to set it up, and put water in it, but where it was, it wouldn't be beneficial to us."

Furthermore, the repair shop had been there a long time and contained many flammable materials, oil, grease rags, batteries, propane, and acetylene torches.

Seven fire trucks were at the scene: Two each from Berlin and Belfast volunteer departments; and three from Lewisburg.

It was one of three fires one week ago.

Another was at Holder's body shop where an electrical heater was the cause, but it was extinguished before firefighters arrived, "but we put some fans in to pull the smoke out," Williams said.

A house fire at 738 W. Church St. destroyed a kitchen and utility room, he said. The rest of the house suffered smoke damage. The fire started in a garbage can in the kitchen.