Fire Hydrant Was Turned Off Before House Explosion in Cameron
A fire hydrant that could have helped in the firefighting efforts of a house that exploded July 17 had been manually shut off, according to investigators who were trying to determine why water wouldn’t come out the day of the fire.
Water trucks had to haul in thousands of gallons to help fight the lingering fires and hot spots when the house near Cameron blew up. In the aftermath of the explosion, the Marshall County Public Service District No. 4 determined that the hydrant had been tampered with.
Board member Dean Pettit, who said he was not speaking for the board, said hydrants in the county — especially in rural areas — are prone to tampering. He said most of the people who illegally mess with fire hydrants are trying to turn their own water back on without authorization. In this case, however, a valve inside the hydrant had been turned off, which blocked the flow of water.
“Someone had turned the hydrant off,” Pettit said. “That’s all the problem was — it was checked immediately. We don’t know why the fire department didn’t check it, or if they know how. It’s unfortunate. … (The investigator) opened the lid up with the tool, saw it was off, opened it back up, and water came out. Hydrant was fine. To the best of my knowledge now, that hydrant is active.”
Pettit said because the person used tools to turn off the hydrant, there were no fingerprints left for possible identification.
“Someone who has a grudge against the department, maybe,” he said, speculating. “That would be a horrible thing for someone to have to live with, if someone had passed away or if something equally terrible had happened. This world we’re living in today, people have no conscience.”
The hydrant was the last one on a far flung part of Dry Ridge Road, far removed from the main road. Pettit said there was no feasible way to monitor hydrants given their current resources.
“You can’t check every hydrant every day,” he said. “That’s the problem. People doing stuff illegally, like they’ve been doing everything else, for years. What can we do about it? We can’t check every hydrant. And that’s what the problem was — someone just turned it off.”
While Pettit said a large amount of money may be able to fund security cameras for hydrants, in more remote areas, cameras would be ineffective.
“A rural lane like that, the people driving by have a better chance of someone (tampering with a hydrant),” he said.
Pettit also said many rural hydrants have been damaged or disabled in the past through other means.
“Oil and gas people on Fork Ridge have ruined two hydrants for us already,” he said. “They just run over them with their semis on those back roads with tight turns, and there goes the hydrant. They don’t call anyone. That’s several thousand dollars and the board has to swallow another one.”
The explosion hospitalized Nick Riggle, 62, with severe burns. Riggle, who was the only one inside at the time, had crawled from the house to a relative’s next door after the explosion occurred. He told police he had flipped a light switch in the new, yet-unoccupied house, which caused the explosion. The house was mostly leveled and destroyed in the blast.