SOUTHMAYD A spark. Something so small caused mass destruction in Southmayd Jan. 3 as an out of control wild fire destroyed 25-acres of land, a storage shed and a home.
While the charred timbers and land have settled, waiting on regrowth or demolition, another spark from the fire is still burning in Southmayd. The scene of the early January fire was filled with distractions, a blazing fire, almost a dozen fire departments and spectators, including school children just arriving home. Southmayd Fire Chief Charlie Skaggs said there was lots of miscommunication, including what happened when he was told the water source the departments were using was turned off.
Just across the street from where a garage apartment burned to the ground that day sets a water hydrant. One that has been used more than once by the Southmayd Fire Department. The hydrant is owned by Monarch Water Company, which services 260 homes in the Southmayd area with a 49,000 gallon reservoir.
Out of the miscommunication comes two stories. One of a company denying access to water that was needed to save anymore homes or land from destruction. The other of a reservoir that was about to run dry and was dangerously close to collapsing the pipes that furnish it. With both stories, the same outcome, the fire department needed to detach from the hydrant.
Both parties, the fire department and the water company, will be able to discuss their sides of the story at the Jan. 24 Southmayd City Council meeting.
Skaggs said he doesnt know what the department would have done if they had run out of water or if the fire would have spread any further. All he could say is that it would have been bad.
According to Skaggs, he and another fire fighter were informed by a Monarch employee that it had to stop using water from the hydrant.
They said they we were running their well low and they didnt have enough (water) for paying customers, he said. We had to limit what we put on the fire.
Paying customers, Skaggs said, that wouldnt have had homes if not for the department putting out the fires.
After the fire was out, Skaggs expressed anger that the company would turn off the only water source for miles during a large fire.
We werent trying to put the fire out anymore. We were just trying to prevent the spread, Skaggs said. It creates a false sense of security to think we could use the water anytime we want.
After the incident, Skaggs said the department is no longer allowed to use the hydrant, which could be risky business if another large fire happens in that area.
A totally different story came out of the Monarch offices, which agreed that the water source was running low, due to the fire hoses and the multiple water hoses being used by residents. It was so low in fact that the pipes that supply the well were close to collapsing if the well was drained any more.
Garry Hofer, a spokesperson for the company, said that hydrant located behind the building isnt made for fire departments but serves as a flushing hydrant. When its needed, fire departments can use it. Hofer said common practice is to let the fire departments use the hydrants until the water level gets low, which is common at small wells. At that point, operators are supposed to discuss the issue with the fire chiefs and help them to find alternative sources of water.
We have limited supplies so we have to be careful with our water, he said. What could happen if we run out of water is the pipes could collapse.
Hofer also said that some of the companys customers use the water for at home dialysis and need the water.
According to Monarch, the employee told the Skaggs that they were about to run out of water and the pumps were about to shut down, due to the low level lock out. The fire department said that it was OK since they were finished with the fire.
We thought everything was handled fine with the fire department until we saw the news that night, Hofer said. That wasnt the story.
Looking into it
Skaggs has included Grayson County and North Texas utilities to see if anything wrong was done. Grayson County Assistant District Attorney Van Price said that the County is trying to get all the facts on the situation. He said he couldnt believe somebody would do that. But Hofer said the company didnt do anything wrong and that you cant pump water if there is none to pump.
Skaggs is also encouraging people to voice their opinions at the City Council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. Jan. 24.