January 29, 1997 in Idaho

Unplowed Rural Roads Add To Problems For Firefighters

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Athol, Idaho, Fire Department’s luck is the unwitting poster child for plowing driveways.

It spent $300 to get its fire engine unstuck Sunday night, just one bad side effect of trying to put out a house fire in the middle of the winter.

The Mark Wedel residence was too far gone for the snowpacked roads to make the key difference. But Athol Fire Chief Marion Blackwell doesn’t want to take the chance.

“I’m imploring people to get their roads plowed to 14-feet wide with turn-arounds,” Blackwell said. “It could be the difference between saving a life or saving a structure.”

The area highway districts don’t plow rural access roads.

The Sunday blaze originally was reported as a grass fire between Remington and Weir roads a few minutes after 7 p.m. Then the fire department discovered it really was a house fire on Idaho Highway 54.

By the time the first truck arrived, close to 7:30 p.m., the house had burned to the ground. The blaze started in the the chimney pipe between the stove and the ceiling.

Even if firefighters had received the call earlier, it would have been difficult to get to the burning house, Blackwell said. Because there was no place to turn around, his crew had to back its water trucks down the access roads for a mile.

This closely resembles a fire-and-road conundrum last month in the Twin Lakes area that hampered efforts to deal with two house fires. “One curve was so sharp that we couldn’t make it in one turn,” Rathdrum Fire Chief Wayne Nowacki said. That curve is where one fire engine got stuck. Firefighters simply ran hose from the stuck truck to the fires.

One home was burned down but it had ignited the house next door, which by then was well into flames. Both homes were lost.

In addition to making the roads passable, firefighters are asking homeowners to have their chimneys cleaned more often and have their stoves inspected for proper installation.

Because of the earlier, harsher winter, “they started using them sooner, are using them more, and the build-up (in the chimney) is faster,” Blackwell said.

“We’ve had four structure fires since the first snow and three were because of inadequately maintained wood stoves.”

, DataTimes


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