Disconnected fire hydrants hamper La. fire department response to blaze

The valve for the hydrants at the complex had been shut off, preventing crews from using any of the property's hydrants


Jacqueline Derobertis
The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

ST. GEORGE, La. — St. George fire prevention investigators are looking into a fire hydrant problem that hampered emergency response during Thursday night's massive fire at The Lakes at Bluebonnet apartment complex.

Crews responded just after 10 p.m. to the blaze at the complex near the corner of Bluebonnet Boulevard and Burbank Drive, where they found two apartments in flames. The blaze rapidly spread to engulf six homes.

Though firefighters extinguished the fire after nearly two hours, they faced an additional obstacle when they tried to connect to the hydrants on the privately-owned property.

St. George Fire Department spokesman Eldon Ledoux said responders were unable to get any water flow from the hydrants and were forced to connect their fire hoses to hydrants in a public right-of-way on both Burbank and Bluebonnet.

“Our guys were inconvenienced,” he said Friday. “They had to work a little harder, they had to relay some hose, and after it was over pick it all up.”

Nevertheless, he said, responders were still able to fight the fire using the water from the fire engines’ 1,000-gallon tanks.

The engines are capable of spraying water while in the process of being connected to the hydrant, he explained, so the initial effort to quell the blaze drew from these internal reserves.

“There was not a loss of water, or a period of time where nothing could be done because there was no water,” he said.

St. George Fire Prevention Chief Darian Williams found that the valve for the hydrants at the complex had been shut off, preventing crews from using any of the property's hydrants.

He speculated the valve may have been switched off because the complex is under construction, and added all hydrants at the complex are now functioning without issue.

Though the fire department does not independently own any hydrants, but rather leases them from the parish water company through a long-standing contractual agreement, Williams said they still check all hydrants at least once a year, including privately-owned hydrants like those at The Lakes at Bluebonnet.

“We try to get out there to all of them,” Williams said. “We can’t guarantee it all the time.”

According to the new 2019 guidelines from the Property Insurance Association of Louisiana, which determines fire ratings for Louisiana fire departments, annual hydrant inspections are required for full credit.

Still, the departments are limited when it comes to private, gated properties like The Lakes at Bluebonnet, where the homes are a mix of owner-occupied and rented units. Without owner consent, Williams said, they are not authorized to inspect the hydrants, which are maintained by property managers.

Williams added that if the department isn’t notified of any changes to the water main on private property, they would not be able to know about any potential issues.

“We could do one in January, and if they go out and do some work in June, we would not know about it,” he said.

Multiple calls to property management for The Lakes at Bluebonnet went unanswered Friday evening.

Williams said the investigation is still ongoing into what started Thursday’s fire, though he said the cause may be “electrical in nature.”

On Friday, firefighters were again dispatched to the complex to deal with area that had reignited.

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©2019 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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