Inadequate waterlines prevented fire fighters from quickly stopping fire

Published 9:22 am Thursday, February 11, 2016

The waterlines in the Whispering Woods apartment complex are inadequate for fire protection and prevented firefighters from properly fighting the Friday fire that destroyed an apartment building in the complex, Fire Chief Charles Atkins said.

Originally known as the Confederate Ridge Apartments, the 40-year-old apartment complex was built in 1976 and was located in county, which has no building codes. It was annexed by the city in 1987.

City Attorney Nancy Thomas said the waterlines were installed by the developer during construction.

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Atkins told the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Wednesday city Water Department records indicated the apartment complex had 4-inch PVC waterlines getting water from a 6-inch main line that ran along U.S. 61 North. He said the minimum standard size line for fire protection in an apartment complex is 6 inches.

“At one time, I think there were four hydrants there, but there were only three that I saw, and the one we could use was the one closer to the building,” Atkins said after the meeting.

But the pressure firefighters received from the hydrant was inadequate to fight the fire with the department’s platform trucks. The platform trucks have water cannons to put large amounts of water on fires, but Atkins said the low pressure prevented the department from using them.

“We only could use one aerial and one hand line pretty much, and that hindered us as far as getting the fire out as fast as we needed. I think we spent about 15 hours dealing with that situation,” he told the board.

“We were going to see if we could get more water and see if we could get a line feeding from someplace else, but that wasn’t the case,” he said. “They were all fed from one line that came off 61 (North).”

Had he opened another hydrant, Atkins said, “I pretty much would have robbed that line that was working.

“My suggestion is, if they want to put more families out there, I would suggest they put a bigger line out there,” Atkins said.

Public Works Director Garnet Van Norman agreed, saying after the meeting a 4-inch line is too small for fire protection.

“I think they need a minimum of a 6-inch line,” he said. “We don’t run anything less than an 8-inch line. The only 6-inch lines we run now come off the 8-inch to the hydrants.

“When you get that small plastic pipe, they can’t take those big fire trucks sucking that water off of it. It will suck the pipe in two; you have to be really careful with it. You hook to another, you’re not getting any water. You’re getting all you can get.”

“They didn’t have the inspection that we have with inspection department, and they (building inspectors) would have gone out when they were actually installing that line to tell them they were not adequate,” North Ward Aldermen Michael Mayfield said.

The fire was the latest problem to hit the apartment complex, which is the county’s largest with 19 buildings and 152 units.

All but four of the buildings are in the city.

In January, the city condemned 37 units at the apartment complex, one of those condemned apartments was in the building that burned.

Repeated attempts to contact the apartment complex manager or to get a telephone number for Eddie Grosse, the managing partner Whispering Woods Holdings LLC, the Delaware-based holding company with offices in Florida that owns the apartment complex, were unsuccessful.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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