Fire crews across the Top of Utah are battling with more than just flames.
Extreme freezing temperatures, as well as fire hydrants buried in the snow, are giving firefighters fits while suppressing fires.
Two recent fires in Davis County seemed to have been started by residents trying to stay warm in the frigid temperatures. But at both fires, crews reported having to dig out fire hydrants.
At a fire Wednesday morning in Clinton, neighbors had begun digging out the fire hydrant and helped crews when they arrived so there was room for hoses to get hooked up.
South Davis Metro Fire Agency Chief Jim Rampton said the problems the department faced in the Clinton fire are similar for all fire agencies this year.
“It’s a time-consuming process to find the fire hydrant, dig it out and make enough space around it so we can hook up our hoses,” Rampton said.
His crews faced a similar problem late Sunday night in West Bountiful. Crews had to dig out a fire hydrant at that location before they could attack a house fire, which he described as “a pretty good fire.”
Rampton and Top of Utah fire officials are asking residents to dig out the fire hydrants that are on or near their property. Once dug out, they are also asking residents to clear a 3-foot space around the hydrants so fire hoses can be quickly attached.
The extreme cold temperatures also wreak havoc on the firefighters, officials said.
“Firefighters are facing two extremes: the extreme heat temperatures inside the fire and then battling the cold temperatures outside,” said Ogden Fire Marshal Brandon Thueson.
Rampton said firefighters keep a close eye on each other, because if they are inside fighting a fire in the hot temperatures and then come outside in the freezing temperatures, their gloves, suits and equipment freeze up in minutes.
“You rotate through a lot of people in very cold temperatures,” Rampton said.
The hoses can freeze, as well as the water lines, he added. And as crews spray water onto a fire, they can get covered with a mist that can quickly turn to ice on them and their gear, Thueson said.
“That also creates ice on the ground, which causes a slippery surface to work on, and that’s when people are falling and hurting their backs,” Thueson said.
Thueson said firefighters are typically busier in the winter than in the summer, because “people are trying to heat their homes or pipes improperly.”
Thueson and Rampton both advise homeowners and business owners to thaw pipes using recommended methods and not to use space heaters too close to combustible materials.
Also, using heat lamps “is not the best way to provide heat for pets” Thueson said. “You should use extreme caution.”
Thueson said business owners should also check their fire sprinkler systems for frozen pipes. Some business owners turn off heat in vacant parts of buildings, which can cause the entire fire suppression system to freeze.
If it does freeze and then burst, “it’s expensive to get fixed and can impact the tenants in the building,” Thueson said.
Fire officials also recommend that residents using a wood-burning stove for heat completely douse the ashes in a metal can and make sure there are no hot spots before depositing them in a plastic trash can.