Lack of hydrants blamed for destroyed city home|North Washington fire one of three reported Friday in Vicksburg

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 29, 2008

Fire protection was among the aspects cited as a benefit to residents in and around the Kings community, part of 21.5 square miles annexed by the City of Vicksburg in 1990.

Though infrastructure such as hydrants and adequate water lines to supply them arrived faster than in areas south of town, residents believe a gap in north Vicksburg fire fighting was exposed Friday morning when a North Washington Street home went up in flames.

“If a fire happens around here, the house is as good as gone,” said resident Bill Jones as Vicksburg firefighters worked to extinguish a blaze that destroyed the home of his mother, Dolly Jones.

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Firefighters responding to the scene connected fire units to the nearest fire hydrant — a mile south of the house. While hydrants are in place along most of North Washington Street, none are in place along the strip of houses in the 5600 and 5700 blocks, less than a half mile from its intersection with U.S. 61 North. Fire crews had to make several runs up and down the road securing water.

Jones’ mother was out of town for the Thanksgiving holiday. Dale Chancey, who said he does work for the family, was inside and escaped without injury.

Water pressure appeared normal across the city. But, as Jones and his neighbors commended firefighters at the scene who stopped the blaze from spreading to adjacent homes, they said the neighborhood needs more hydrants.

“If a hydrant had been there, they could have saved part of the house,” Jones said, adding that an untapped water plug at the foot of a neighboring driveway has sat untouched by city crews.

“I’ve been cleaning that thing off for 15 years, but they’ve never put a hydrant there,” Prentiss Garrard said, standing sentinel in the driveway amid bits of debris driven into his adjacent front yard by the fire and Friday’s steady rainfall.

After waking up and having the power go out on the cable news channel he was watching, Chancey said he noticed smoke pouring from beneath a utility room door, located behind the carport.

“I believe it’s electrical,” said a visible shaken Chancey.

The fire was one of three reported in Vicksburg Friday. The first, at 8:45 a.m, reported on High Street near East Avenue, was chalked up to faulty wiring. Later, at 12:58 p.m., flames gutted a home at 707 Locust St. No injuries were reported. Relative’s of the home’s owner told firefighters at the scene the owner was out of town for the holiday.

At Jones’ home, flames and smoke billowed from the collapsing structure for several hours after it broke out at 9:06 a.m. Vicksburg Fire Chief Keith Rogers said crews had the blaze under control by 2 p.m., and its cause remains under investigation.

Friday’s fire was similar to one that charred a home on Kendra Drive in south Vicksburg in June 2006.

Due to the absence of hydrants on Kendra, fire trucks hooked up to a hydrant a block away on Belva Drive to fight the fire, which gutted the home, since rebuilt. It led to the ramp-up of a $4 million public works project — stalled by legal issues with the contractor — that put additional hydrants and sewer lines in the southernmost annexed areas by the end of 2007.

Hydrants with orange or yellow caps — such as the one used to extinguish the flames at Jones’ house — have a pumping capacity of 800 to 1,000 gallons of water per minute, Rogers said. Those painted blue or green elsewhere in the city can pump between 1,000 to 1,500 gallons per minute.

Fire crews were supervised by Battalion Chief Marion Cole at that and two additional fires reported Friday. Most Vicksburg and Warren County officials were not at work Friday because of the extra Thanksgiving day off, set by the state and approved by both local governing boards.

Standby fire hydrants are kept in city public works department facilities, Mayor Laurence Leyens said at midday Friday as details of the fire reached city officials.

Leyens said the city was well-equipped to fight fires despite some gaps in coverage. Municipal standards require a hydrant within every 1,000 feet.

As the fire raged, however, Jones, a Warren County sheriff’s deputy, indicated he is unmoved at the city’s efforts to close all the gaps in its fire protection.

“Let this be Leyens’ or (Michael) Mayfield’s or (Sid) Beauman’s house catch fire and you’ll see hydrants,” Jones said.

Mayfield is Vicksburg’s North Ward Alderman, and Beauman serves the city’s South Ward.


Contact Danny Barrett, Jr. at