Extreme cold hinders crews fighting house fires

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WEST BOUNTIFUL — Freezing temperatures made it difficult for crews who fought two different house fires Sunday night and Monday morning.

In West Bountiful, firefighters arrived at a home near 700 West and 1800 North around 10:30 p.m. to find heavy smoke coming from the front door and windows.

They believe the fire began in the basement and spread to the first floor.

"Basement fires are very dangerous," said Jim Rampton of the South Davis Metro Fire Department. "They keep in a lot of heat. The windows aren't as big. (Crews) were able to open some windows as they were making the attack and were able to go in and put out some fire."

But it took longer than expected and was much more difficult because of below-zero temperatures.

Not only are there water supply issues, it is a balmy -3 out here tonight.

–Capt. Clint Mecham, Unified Fire Authority

"As soon as the water hits the ground it is immediately frozen," Rampton said.

Cold temperatures also contributed to fatigue for the firefighters.

"It's not like you can come out once you're sweaty and change your bottle. You're immediately frozen," Rampton said. "So it takes a little longer to make sure our crews are rehabbed before they can go back in."

The home's resident, who was inside when the fire started, was treated for minor smoke inhalation. An animal was inside the home, but crews weren't able to find it.

Historic Cold
By Andrew Adams
SALT LAKE CITY — It's not just extremely cold out there, it's bordering on historic. It's so cold you can pour water on the ground outside and it freezes in about 20 seconds.

Some of the temperatures in Utah overnight are similar to what you'd expect in Minnesota:

  • -25 in Bryce Canyon
  • -21 at Kimball Junction outside of Park City

Salt Lake City International Airport recorded temperatures below 0 overnight. The last time that happened was on Jan. 22, 2008 when it was -2 degrees.

Monday, Salt Lake's forecast high is 13 degrees. The last time the maximum temperature for the day was below 14 was more than 22 years ago -- Dec. 30, 1990.

People working outdoors and skiers should beware of frostbite, which can set in relatively quickly. Signs of frostbite include a white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, and numbness.

In Magna, crews faced similar issues fighting heavy smoke and flames at the back of a home on Elmer Street early Monday morning.

"This type of weather is always difficult for us," said Capt. Clint Mecham of the Unified Fire Authority. "Not only are there water supply issues, it is a balmy -3 out here according to my information. The water freezes almost immediately as soon as it touches the ground."

"The firefighters also use a great deal of calories not only fighting the fire but trying to stay warm," he added.

The fire started at around 2 a.m. in an outside awning and spread to the siding of the house. The family inside heard the smoke alarms go off and got out safely.

West Valley fire crews were called to assist because of the cold weather.

A gassed up ATV helped spread the flames but fire crews knocked down the fire in about 15 minutes. Still, steam and smoke filled much of the home.

No word yet on what caused the fires.

Earlier Sunday, Unified fire crews were called to a two-alarm house fire in Cottonwood Heights. A man attempting to thaw pipes by using a torch on an exterior wall accidentally caught insulation on fire.

That fire was similar to an incident in Murray on Jan. 7 when an attic fire was started when a man tried to thaw his rain gutters using a torch.

Mecham recommended homeowners use a blow dryer or something that does not involve an open flame when trying to thaw pipes.

Contributing: Pat Reavy


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