St. Paul, Ashmont, and Two Hills Fire Departments were all involved in extinguishing a house fire in the Lac Sante area on Feb. 9. No people were injured, but the structure was a total loss.
According to St. Paul Fire Chief Trevor Kotowich, the blaze was located in the furthest corner of the St. Paul response area, roughly 30km from St. Paul. The call came in at approximately 11:30 a.m., they were on scene until about 5 p.m. and they finished cleaning everything up back at the hall around 7:30 or 8 p.m.
“Tuesday had very cold conditions, we were experiencing a wind chill down to -40C which compounded with the distance factor. Rural fire fighting always has its challenges, but the biggest is water supply,” said Kotowich.
“In town we have hydrants and we have an unlimited amount of water. But out of the country we’re looking for different sources. And because of the weather we experienced, we couldn’t draft from a static source, meaning we couldn’t find a body of water and start drafting from it, it just would not have worked.”
Because they couldn’t pump water from a lake to fight the fire, tanker trucks from St. Paul, Ashmont, and Two Hills all provided support by transporting water from town. Kotowich said it was about a 45-minute round trip for each load of water. They had a tank at the scene which holds approximately 3,000 gallons and can be filled by the tanker in about three minutes.
“In total we were pretty close to about 20,000 gallons of water that was used, which sounds like a lot, but really it’s not,” he said.
Kotowich said the important thing at that temperature is to always keep the water flowing.
“At those temperatures, even flowing water freezes. So the challenge is to always provide or keep water enough water in the tank to keep our hoses running. Because the second you shut down a hose, literally it within a second, it’s frozen stiff and there’s just no way you could actually thaw it out without the help of external heat sources,” said Kotowich.
He said the County of St. Paul had brought them some heaters, not to keep the firefighters warm but to keep the hoses from freezing and to thaw equipment so it could be hauled back to town.
According to Kotowich, 15 firefighters were at the scene and another five spent the day working at the fire hall filling trucks and thawing equipment as it returned from the scene. He noted there was not a single complaint about the temperature from anyone who was there, although there were a few frostbitten cheeks and some cold fingers and toes.
“The equipment we use is very good. It’s second to none. There’s there’s no challenges with the equipment. To be honest, once you kind of get once you get that layer of ice on you, you’re rather insulated. And as long as you keep moving, you don’t really get cold,” said Kotowich.
The two-story 3,000 sq. ft. home was a complete loss, which Kotowich said was very unfortunate and not what they strive for.
“With all the circumstances that we were facing that day, it became a challenging firefight. And at that point, there’s nothing that we can do. I won’t do anything to risk any of our firefighters when a property is past that point already. So it’s just a matter of keeping our guys and gal safe and just putting everything out,” said Kotowich.
He noted the wind coming off the lake had been a factor in driving the fire on to itself and into the house. Fire crews were able to prevent the blaze from spreading to other structures on the property and neighbouring homes.
Asked about the cause of the fire, Kotowich said it is still under investigation but at this time there’s nothing suspicious about it, they just haven’t narrowed down the specific cause.