As Jeff Marsh’s childhood home along Lake Tapps burned Saturday night, firefighters had to travel half a mile away for the nearest fire hydrant.
Jeff Marsh’s daughter and parents were inside when the fire started. He said they were keeping warm by the fireplace when they noticed a small flame near the roof.
The chimney fire then set the entire attic ablaze.
The home in the 1700 block of 217th Avenue Court East burned to its core, while the family made it out safely.
The heat “was breaking all the strings in the piano, and it actually sounded like somebody was in here playing music,” Marsh said.
Monday, family members retrieved what they could from the rubble, including photo albums and Marsh’s grandmother’s wedding dress.
Chief Bud Backer of East Pierce Fire & Rescue said this is not the first time his team has encountered a house in the same area with limited access to hydrants. Last May, a home burned on a Lake Tapps island that had zero hydrants available. Crews had to pump in water from Lake Tapps and call a fire boat out on the lake to help their water supply.
Backer called Saturday’s fire “extremely frustrating.”
Backer described what one of his crew members told him: “We’re putting two hose lines of almost 500 gallons a minute, and he said the fire was just laughing at us.”
Said Marsh: “We were all confused when they started fighting the fire, and all of a sudden, the water stopped. And we hear them yelling, ‘I’m out of water!’ ”
Pierce County Fire Marshal Warner Webb said fire hydrants are only required when properties are smaller than one acre, because of the density of houses and people.
For land larger than one acre, property owners have a variety of choices to meet fire code: installing a sprinkler system, installing a monitored fire-alarm system, installing a fire hydrant or having non-combustible siding. A combination of these strategies would meet the county’s requirements.
The house that burned Saturday was built in 1982, before the current fire code was implemented.
Its proximity to neighboring homes is close enough that Marsh said the community is considering how to improve fire safety for all.
But installing a fire hydrant at one’s home could cost tens of thousands of dollars.
To get this done, Webb said residents can band together to form a local improvement district with self-imposed fees.
“It’s a choice that you have to make, but it’s also a big sacrifice, because it costs a lot of money,” Marsh said.
Alternatively, Webb recommended that people install a good sprinkler system and a monitored fire-alarm system that automatically alerts the fire department in an emergency without waiting for a 911 call.