Tby Valerie Verkamp
Michael and Tracy Simon were not home when their rural Platte County home, now deemed a total loss, caught fire.
Fire crews believe the fire on Aring Road in rural southern Platte County started just after 5 p.m. Sunday, several hours after the Simon family had left their home.
Authorities were notified of the fire when a dispatcher received a call reporting a column of smoke on 76th Street. While crews were in response to the initial call, a neighbor on Aring Road phoned police and supplied an exact address.
Dean Cull, fire marshal of the Southern Platte Fire Protection District, said the blaze really got a head start before the initial 9-1-1 call at 5:49 p.m.
“By the time the fire department arrived, the house was engulfed in flames,” said Cull. “The fire was through the roof and flames were blowing out the back of the house. So the fire grew rapidly without anybody knowing about it.”
The situation only escalated from there.
Firefighters say the fire hydrant in closest proximity to the home was located on NW Schott Drive and was not functioning.
“We could not get water out of it,” said Cull.
As a precaution, when firefighters respond to fires in this rural region, the department automatically sends out water tankers to the scene. Cull said the battalion chief of Southern Platte Fire District sent out a call requesting additional pumper trucks from Central Platte Fire Department and West Platte Fire Department.
Initially, firefighters fought the blaze with two 1,000 gallon water tanks. The process involves placing portable water tanks on the ground, filling the tanks with water, and then shooting the water on the fire, said Cull.
But the closest working fire hydrant was located two miles away at Union Chapel Elementary School, Cull said.
Nearby residents who had mistaken a flush valve for a fire hydrant were surprised to learn NW Aring Road did not have a working fire hydrant.
Since the residence is located on a dead-end street, the water department installed a flush valve. It looks quite similar in appearance to a fire hydrant, however, a flush valve is not a working fire hydrant, merely a mechanism used to flush out the water line, usually on an annual basis, Cull said.
“This prevents the main water line from getting clogged,” he added.
Cull says in rural Platte County separate and distinct water districts are in charge of fire hydrants.
“We don't own them or have control over them,” he said.
Consolidated Public Water Supply District No. 1 of Platte County provides service to this rural area.
Due to the extent of the damage, fire marshals will not be able to conduct an investigation to determine the exact cause of the fire.
“Everything collapsed into the basement and we would never be able to determine an exact cause,” said Cull.
The homeowners told authorities they have no idea what could have caused the fire.
Cull says fires double in size every minute, so time is of the essence. To safeguard yourself and your belongings, Cull advises homeowners in rural areas to purchase more than just a smoke detector.
“The only way to prevent this from happening again is to put an alarm system that goes to a central station in your house or a residential fire sprinkler system,” said Cull. “The quicker detection, the quicker we have a chance of knocking out the fire and saving the property.”