Area fire crews tackle fire
Photo Courtesy of Collinsville Fire Department
By Abigail Allen
A home in the 300 block of Gene Autry Drive in Tioga burned down in a blaze that raged for multiple hours.
The Tioga Volunteer Fire Department members who were able to respond were aided by the fire departments from Collinsville, Pilot Point, Gunter, North Shore and Whitesboro as well as members of the Tioga Police Department.
“When the first crews arrived on scene, they reported that flames were already through the roof,” TVFD Chief Richard Hartman said. “… About an hour into it, it was called a defensive fire by command, which basically means we're not going to go in and try to put it out. We're basically going to surround and drown from the outside.”
The weather helped make that possible, as there was no wind to contend with and the recent rain helped prevent the surrounding vegetation from spreading the flames.
Collinsville Fire Department Chief Damon V. Stewart took command of the response when he and his crew arrived on the scene at 9:41 p.m.
“We could see the smoke when we entered the city limits of Tioga,” Stewart said. “From a couple of miles away we could already see smoke.”
They were told on arrival that the firefighters “were having issues with being able to draw water,” Stewart said, an issue that would complicate the response.
“We determined at that time that the hydrant that we were trying to hook to was [not working]; there was no water flow,” Stewart said. “We could not establish a continuous water supply.”
To handle that, the departments shuttled water from another part of Tioga to the site of the fire around six to eight blocks away.
“We continued to do that through the night so that we had, not a continual, stablized water supply, but we were moving water from one location to another, bringing it to the fire scene and making a fire attack with it,” Stewart said.
Assistant Chief Bryan Cox of the Pilot Point Fire Department helped oversee operations for responding to the fire with coordinated attacks.
“We sent guys in the front door, and smoke was banked all the way down to the floor,” Cox said. “And they made a push in and found the stairwell, and the stairwell had been burned away, so the fire had been going for quite a while I guess before somebody called it in.”
They opted to try a different approach, but that too turned out to be dangerous.
“With the way the fire was burning from the middle out, there wasn't a good way for us to get our crews to get in safely to where we needed to be, so we just had to pretty much do what we could from the outside,” Cox said.
That call was made at 10:16 p.m.
“We made all fire attacks from the exterior of the structure in a more safe environment,” Stewart said.
Around 1:10 a.m., there was still an active fire, Stewart said, but it was deemed under control and contained.
At that point, the departments worked to unearth portions of the house that could still be feeding the fire to attempt to prevent a major secondary fire.
“We went into overhaul mode and extinguished any signs of a fire,” Stewart said.
As Stewart turned responsibility of the response back over to the TVFD staff on site, he said they would need to “babysit it the rest of the night because they were probably going to get a rekindle.”
The challenges the crews faced hinged largely on the water supply issue.
“Our biggest tactical hurdle was water supply, because essentially we didn’t have any,” Stewart said. “The second tactical hurdle that we had was the local agency that responded to it initially ... did not have a crew that had already engaged and was able to transfer information to us.”
He said he didn’t hold that against TVFD.
“Those things happen,” he added.
The quality of construction of the house also didn’t help.
“It was an older, well-built wooden structure that didn’t want to give it up,” Stewart said. “Those old structures, when they burn, they burn for a long time and they burn really hot. If that would have been a house built in the last 15 years, it’d have been on the ground in an hour and a half, tops.”
Hartman was out of town when the fire was called in, and he made his way back to assess the scene.
“Most crews cleared by about 2:30, 3 o'clock in the morning—about the time that I got there,” he said. “… North Shore and Tioga were still on-scene to help break down everything, put everything up. We finally left the station about 5:30 in the morning after putting the truck back together, and then we got called back out later on for a couple of hot spots for a rekindle.”
Pilot Point, Collinsville and Gunter again assisted with that call around 7:25 a.m.
Overall, the vacant house was a total loss.
“We hate the fact that it was a loss of a structure or a house, but at least there were no injuries, and that's what we try to make sure of every single time—that everyone goes home safe,” Hartman said.
The Grayson County fire marshal is continuing to look into the fire.
“[The cause] is going to be undetermined at this time,” Hartman said. “It's still under investigation. … With most of the house being a total loss, it's hard to determine [the cause]. They have not released any of the information of where they think it started or a known cause.”
Hartman said he was grateful for the mutual aid the neighboring departments provided.
“We appreciate everybody,” Hartman said. “Most of the departments that came out are volunteer departments, so everybody has a job to go to the next morning, and being out until 2:30, 3 o'clock in the morning kind of ends your night sleep real quick. A big thank you to Pilot Point, Collinsville, Whitesboro, Gunter and North Shore.”