Archive for Thursday, November 9, 2006

Fire decimates trailer home, challenges firefighters

November 9, 2006

Accumulated trash turned what should have been an hourlong call Sunday into a six-hour ordeal for the Eudora City Fire Department.

City firefighters, along with firefighters from Eudora Township and Wakarusa Township, had to hack through walls to battle the fire in Darryl Swisher's trailer home in the 1000 block of Maple Street.

Swisher and his visiting family escaped unharmed.

The call was made at about 7:15 p.m. The last firefighter left at about 1:30 a.m.

"When I pulled up and saw where the police officers were and which house it was, I realized it would not be a simple matter of fire attack than it would in any other house," Eudora City Fire Chief Randy Ates said.

Ates had seen the trailer before on a tour of problem areas within in the city when he began his tenure.

"Any type of maneuver we had to do in the yard, we had to move parts of his collection of items aside to be able to manipulate the fire hoses," Ates said.

A candle ignited the flames, Ates said.

"He had taken a lamp shade off a small desk lamp or floor lamp and set the shade over the candle, why I do not know, but the shade caught fire, and of course with the number of items near the fire it immediately spread up the wall," Ates said.

Earlier in the week, the city had cut off Swisher's utilities. He said he had planned to pay the bill Monday to reinstate power.

Upon arriving, Ates noticed flames at the back of the trailer.

During a normal fire, the fire crew would enter the front door with a hose and extinguish the fire, Ates said. The firefighters have trained on similar trailers to memorize their basic layout.

Because of the debris, normal tactics weren't available.

"When the first crew with the fire hose tried to get through the front door, they hit the debris and couldn't get any further," Ates said.

To get to the blaze, firefighters resorted to chainsaws and axes.

"Every move through that yard was a struggle. Just having room to work was difficult," Ates said. "Once we got access and got the chainsaws out and cut holes in the side, we were able to drag piles of smoldering clothes out, which seemed to be the biggest culprit," Ates said.

Firefighters had to spray the clothes then put them out to the side before continuing deeper into the trailer.

It became an exhausting process, Ates said.

"We needed a lot of manpower because firefighters were tiring from having to pull all that stuff out. We had to take breaks," Ates said.

Ates said he felt fortunate he had aid from Eudora and Wakarusa townships.

Firefighters found combustible materials like propane tanks and chemicals while fighting the fire. If the items weren't found, the call could have been much worse, Ates said.

"If he had not been home and the fire had not been detected in an old trailer like that, it would have been very difficult to extinguish from the outset," Ates said.

Ates said propane tanks on the north side of the trailer could have been particularly vulnerable.

Although firefighters declared the fire under control at about 9:45 p.m., crews stayed on hand to protect the residence from further flare-ups.

"Even then, with the amount of rubble and debris and items and junk, we were not certain it wouldn't flare from a hidden hot spot," Ates said.

The back of the trailer is a total loss Ates said.

Swisher said he had no plans to fix the trailer.

"At this point I don't know what I'm going to do with it," he said.

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