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TENN FLASHOVER: FIREFIGHTERS "WE HAD TO FIGHT OUR WAY OUT"

     

Friday, January 4, 2013 A fire described as “an anomaly” in a one-story concrete block home resisted Columbia firefighters’ efforts to put it out for more than two hours at midday yesterday.
The first fire crew inside the building at 207 Cemetery Ave. appeared to have the fire under control when it flashed over, briefly trapping the firefighters inside.
Capt. Mark Gandee, one of those inside the structure, said, “We were making good headway when fire rolled out of the attic and blocked us. We had to fight our way out.”
That’s when firefighters changed to a “defensive attack,” pouring water on the house and an adjacent building, Wetswerd Motor Cars, Gandee said. But despite being sprayed with four hoses and a snorkel mounted on top of the ladder extended over the department’s new ladder truck, flames and thick smoke continued to pour from around the roof.
“At one time we were pumping 1,500-1,800 gallons a minute,” Gandee said. By the one-hour mark, water was pouring out the front door of the house and cascading in a torrent off the front porch.
Fire Chief Lee Bergeron, who was directing operations at the scene, said, “You’re seeing an anomaly of fighting fires now.” Although initial reports were that the fire started in or around a wood-burning stove, Bergeron later said he was told the fire started elsewhere. He said cans of paint and lacquer were inside the home. Two stacks of firewood were in the front yard.
“We’ll go in and look later, but for now it looks like possible accidental,” Bergeron said.
The stubbornness of the blaze could be attributed to the fact that the house was an old building, Gandee said.
“It’s just a well-built old house,” he explained. “The timbers and two-by-fours are rough-cut oak. That’s the difference between old-style construction and today’s lighter-built buildings. These fires don’t burn as hot, but they burn longer.”
No firefighters were injured, Bergeron said, but it was a close call.
“These fires kill more firefighters than the big, spectacular ones,” he said.
The chief said a woman who rents the house told fire officials she was home when the fire broke out, and tried to fight it before calling 911 and leaving the building with her two dogs.
The woman, who identified herself at the scene as Tammy Woods, refused further comment, saying, “My landlady asked me not to talk to you.”
Bail bondsman John Totty, also at the scene, said he owns the auto business on one side of the home and an office building on the other. Bergeron said the auto business suffered minimal damage, but both structures were saved.
“The main thing,” Totty said, “is nobody’s hurt.”

 Staff Photo By Susan Thurman


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