Fort Lupton Fire Protection District firefighters started off the New Year’s Eve weekend a lot hotter than planned, with a pair of structure fires Dec. 29, 2012, that ended with two families left without homes.
Responding to reports of a house trailer fire in the Sierra Vista Mobile Home Park at the corner of Weld County Road 6 and U.S. 85, firefighters aided the Brighton Fire District in extinguishing a blaze that left the home uninhabitable, a tough blow for family members vacationing out of the country. According to the FLFPD, the cause of that fire was a malfunctioning water heater.
With barely enough time to thaw frozen hoses and stow equipment, the district received a report of people trapped on the roof of a burning home on Village Drive. Already in the vicinity for an additional call, they responded within three minutes, geared for the rescue.
What they found on scene was total chaos. Due in equal parts to the frigid temperatures and the nature of the fire, smoke completely obscured the residence. Pictures show the burning home all but invisible from the curb.
“They were told by the police department they have at least one person, they didn’t know where, but they knew it was either the roof or the balcony,” fire chief Phil Tiffany said. “We had original reports that there were four on the balcony. The police department told our crews that several had made it down.”
Circling the building with ladders, fire crews heard a cry for help from above. Keeping the man talking, the crew zeroed in on his voice, putting a ladder up into the smoke. As a masked and suited firefighter started up, the man started down, with the two meeting en route and continuing to the ground.
“Then we knew that everyone was out of the house at that point in time, and verified,” Tiffany said. “The family then met with ambulance crews, who transported all four to Platte Valley hospital with smoke inhalation.”
Turning the brunt of the effort toward extinguishing the blaze, crews focused on minimizing damage to the other houses in the neighborhood.
“We had our hands full,” Tiffany said. “We immediately requested mutual aid from Brighton and Platteville, they responded with an engine crew each.”
Adjacent to the burning house within mere feet was a second occupied structure, an immediate concern now that the family was safely evacuated from the burning main home.
“That became our total objective,” Tiffany said of efforts to isolate the damage to the original structure. “We knew we had everyone out of the house, so we took a fully defensive stance on the (house) fire.”
Another hazard for the department was the weather, with hoses freezing and the street becoming a skating rink under the firefighters’ feet.
“We were hampered by the cold, it was very cold,” Tiffany said. “One of the hydrants was frozen, and we couldn’t get any water out of it. It didn’t slow us down much, because we had a secondary plan. Pacific and Village was frozen, so we went immediately to Ninth Street. With the temperature turning everything to ice, we were concerned about the safety of the firefighters. Very cold temperatures, that really put a hurt on the firefighters.”
Having extinguished the fire, crews left the scene at 11 a.m., only to return at 10 p.m. Saturday when embers reignited. Putting out the fire a second time did the trick, as did securing the scene for investigation.
One bright spot for the family was the rescue of a pet, a frightened cat. Despite using up one of its nine lives, the feline came out relatively unscathed, dirty but not really any worse for the wear.
“At least we could give them something back, from all they had lost,” Tiffany said. “They were very grateful for that.”
As for Tiffany, he is grateful for the cadre of professionals in the district, who put their own safety at risk to save others.
“It could have been a four-fatality fire, that is the scary thing,” Tiffany said. “All the crews did a great job. That is what we train for, to rescue people. They did an outstanding job, they went to work and did exactly what they needed to do. Outstanding.”
The cause of the fire is listed as accidental, from an unattended candle burning in a bedroom.
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