Hydrants cause problems at fire in north Houston

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by Shern-min Chow / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on July 16, 2013 at 10:50 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 17 at 10:25 AM

HOUSTON -- A 2-alarm blaze destroyed displaced about a dozen families Tuesday afternoon at the Timbers at Cranbrook Apartments on Ella in north Harris County. One building with 16 units was destroyed.

Firefighters from five volunteer departments responded. Trouble with fire hydrants on the property hampered their efforts. Low water pressure in the hydrants crippled firefighting efforts that could be caused by debris in the water lines, a cracked water main, or faulty underground valves.

So how do renters protect themselves?

Heavy flames punched through the roof tops, eventually caving one in. That wasn’t the only danger.

Resident Rafter Irving thought it sounded like some ammunition exploded.

“Some pop-pop sounds. You know for 10 seconds,” Irving said. “Rounds with bullets in them.”

Firefighters still had other problems -- finding water to put on this fire. The Little York Volunteer Fire Department was the lead agency.

“On the apartment we had several fire plugs but all of ‘em was dead or little or no water,” said Deputy Chief Don Gilkey.

Firefighters finally had to hook up to a hydrant outside the complex on Ella, shutting down the street.

“Gives me a lot of concern,” Irving said.

Irving showed us his water bill. Water is supplied by Harris County MUD 200, but it's the apartment managers who are responsible for maintaining the hydrants.

Lt. Chad Shaw is with the Harris County Fire Marshall. Shaw likened the situation to a homeowner, who is responsible for utilities inside the property line.

“Inside the complex, it will be up to the management of the complex,” Shaw said.

If you live in an apartment, Shaw recommends asking the management if they test the fire hydrants.

If the answer is ‘no’, it will be a deal breaker for Irving.

“It’s always a deal breaker, especially when it comes to my grandkids,” Irving said.

They moved here to be close to their grandson and daughter. She already does something else recommended by the Fire Marshall.

“I have renter’s insurance. It’s an extra six bucks [a month] but it’s worth it,” said Myretta Stewart.

The dozen families who lost their homes are being relocated in vacant units at the Timber of Cranbrook. The Red Cross is assisting them.

“There is no cause yet, but investigators believe the blaze started in a unit undergoing maintenance.

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