Tactic used fire to save home

‘Looking to find opportunities to go in and make the kill’; North Mill house a total loss; ground floor property largely salvageable

Grangeville firefighters had hard duty Saturday night, Jan. 28, pulling efforts back on a house fire until the blaze breeched the roof, allowing access to the home’s attic.

Photo by David Rauzi


Grangeville firefighters had hard duty Saturday night, Jan. 28, pulling efforts back on a house fire until the blaze breeched the roof, allowing access to the home’s attic.

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Firefighters ready to take advantage of an opening at Saturday night's house fire on North Mill Street.

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Grangeville firefighters lay down water on a house fire on North Mill Street Saturday night, Jan. 28.

— Firefighters spent hours battling a two-story structure fire late into Saturday evening that looked poised to consume the entire home. But a tactic allowing the blaze to breech the roof provided the opening crews took to arrest its progress and largely save the ground floor and most of its personal property.

“The structure itself is lost,” said Chief Bob Mager, Grangeville Volunteer Fire Department, “but 75 percent of the lower story is still intact,” with much of the occupants’ belongings located here – suffering water and smoke damage – still salvageable.

No injuries were reported, and the home – owned by John Gaither — was insured. The occupants – Nicole Case and her family — were not home at the time of the fire. Cause is undetermined but believed accidental, possibly electrical in nature, according to Mager. Crews cleared the scene that Sunday morning, 3:30 a.m.

Sixteen firefighters, two engines and an attack truck responded to the 8:25 p.m. fire report on Jan. 28 by a passing motorist at 304 East North 4th Street. A weekend high-pressure weather system kept the smoke low across the community, the flames reflecting on clouds for an orange glow that could be seen across town.

“It was fully involved on the southeast corner when the call came in,” Mager said, had breached the wall and was working along the outside up into the attic.

Snow and temperatures dropping to 19 degrees weren’t hampering efforts as much as the home’s antiquated construction, according to Mager. Two-by-six beams running the entire height of the home without spaced horizontal fire breaks allowed the blaze to travel quickly. The structure’s tin roof trapped the fire, causing it to mushroom throughout the ceiling, as well as retaining heat that increased interior combustion.

Initially, crews took the offensive, tackling the upper structure from multiple sides with hoses and an engine deluge gun. However, with conditions proving problematic for covering the fire’s extent and inaccessible areas, crews switched to defense. Efforts were redirected to push the fire to the structure’s southeast corner to allow the fire to burn through the roof and give crews a hole for attack, or if the home was to be lost “to bring it to the ground safely,” he said, away from the street and other adjacent structures.

Concerns for safety prevented firefighters entering the home, with the blaze having weakened the upper floor and staircase creating a potential for collapse. The roof’s steep pitch prevented crews from being able to access it to cut away portions of the tin to allow fire venting.

Within an hour and a half, the southeast corner roof had sufficiently opened to allow attic access, and firefighters went on the offensive. The period prior allowed firefighters to rest and get water, he said, “so they were able to work another five hours.” From here, crews had the fire under control within 40 minutes and began mop-up operations to clear debris and “chase the bits of fire that were left.”

Mager said this fire was a “big challenge,” utilizing multiple methods to maintain safety for people and adjacent properties, and “like a pack of wolves, looking to find opportunities to go in and make the kill, and put this son of a gun out.”

Along with agency assistance from Grangeville Police Department and the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office (ICSO), Mager complimented ICSO Dispatch for getting Avista and Syringa Ambulance crews rolling to the scene following the initial call. No word was available on community assistance being provided to the victims.

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