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Faulty hydrant to blame for total loss in house fire?

Staff writer

First responders rushed to the scene of a house fire in Peabody Saturday morning that started in a chimney just before 9 a.m. in the 700 block of N. Walnut St.

Florence and Butler County departments joined forces with the Peabody fire department along with EMS and police who responded to the call at the residence of Chris Litton and Julia Mosqueda.

Mosqueda’s mother, Jeannie Henry, said Saturday while efforts to get the fire completely out were still underway that the home was a total loss.

“I told them ‘this is a small town and you guys have lived here forever, people will help you out,” she said.

Efforts to control the fire lasted all morning ending around noon, but began on a shaky note when a fire hydrant wouldn’t open, leaving firemen without water for the first several minutes they were on scene.

Peabody resident Leroy Wetta, a neighbor to the fire victims, talked to city council members at Monday’s meeting about concerns he had after witnessing the hydrant malfunction.

Wetta said the woman who lives in the house across the street from them approached them Saturday morning asking them to call in the fire, which they did immediately.

He commended the short response time of first responders, including a police officer and fire chief, along with a fire truck and volunteer firefighters.

“My neighbor’s life should be returned to normal with minimal damage,” he said. “Wrong! The situation soon evolved into an unbelievable mess.”

Wetta described how the burning structure went from smoke around the chimney, to visible flames, to a full inferno while the fire truck was unable to pump water.

“I saw a homeowner, in hysteria, calling for water as he watched his sweat equity in the house go up in flames,” Wetta explained. “I saw a frustrated firefighter holding the nozzle end of a hose with no water coming from it. I saw a supply hose going from the fire truck toward the hydrant in my front yard. I still saw no water.”

Wetta described how his wife witnessed firefighters and a police officer as they tried to remove a cap from the hydrant to expose the connection to fit the supply hose to.

“The police officer banged, pounded, and bounced up and down on the wrench handle trying to turn the cap,” he said. “I saw a home turn into an unlivable mess because of a rusty stuck cap.”

Wetta questioned the council as to the process behind making sure the hydrants are in correct working order.

“Who is responsible for ensuring the hydrants are in working order?” he asked.

“Is there a maintenance procedure and schedule that is followed, or obviously not followed, that keeps the hydrants in working order?”

Wetta ended his plea to council members on a hopeful note.

“What I watched was tragic and must never happen again,” he said. “I know a solution is available and will be implemented. Thank you.”

Council member Travis Wilson was quick to respond, saying that was a question he intended to address at the meeting with public works director Ronnie Harms. He suggested a procedure should be implemented for regular hydrant checks.

He also said he was one of three people trying to loosen the hydrant cap.

“We had three 200-pound guys on that wrench and it wouldn’t budge,” he said.

Harms said there had been an inspection procedure, but city crews had lapsed in following it. Wilson and Harms agreed to meet to review the procedure and start inspections again.

Last modified April 11, 2018

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