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Fire destroys Washington Township home

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 12:06 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Smoke rises from the ruins of a house that was destroyed by fire on Beech Road in Washington Township on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014.

A Washington Township homeowner and his wife are staying with relatives because a fire destroyed their house early Tuesday.

No one was injured despite the fire and dangerous weather that the victims and firefighters had to endure.

The house at 5286 Beech Road was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived at about 1:30 a.m.

The unidentified home-owner was able to get out. His wife was at an older relative's house in the township when the fire broke out, Washington Township fire Chief Dan Black said.

The fire may have started in a crawl space, but firefighters aren't sure.“We may never determine a cause because of the extensive damage,” Black said.

He said about 50 volunteer firefighters from five departments battled the flames in sub-zero temperatures. In addition to Washington Township and Murrysville, volunteers came from White Valley, Export, Upper Burrell and Slickville.

Black at first though tanker trucks would be needed, but the volunteers were able to stretch enough hose to reach a fire hydrant on top of a nearby hill.

Nevertheless, each of the volunteers had to contend with the subzero temperatures and stiff wind that bit through protective gear to threaten them with frostbite or hypothermia, dangerously low body temperature caused by prolonged exposure to the cold.

Ice also was a hazard for firefighters, but a township road crew spread salt and ashes at the fire scene. No injuries from a fall were reported.

“They are the ones that do all the work,” said public works director Rick Huffman about firefighters. “We just help when we can.”

There were five fires across Westmoreland County on Monday night into Tuesday, said Dan Stevens, deputy emergency services coordinator. He said no one was reported injured from slipping.

Winter challenges

Cold weather blazes pose other problems for firefighters and their equipment. Perspiration is often wicked to outer garments and that moisture can freeze when a firefighter turns away from the heat.“It's hot holding a hose on the fire,” Black said. “But when you turn around to take a break, the coats freeze up right away.”

Beech Road firefighters and rescue crews were prepared. Firefighters took turns alternating between dousing the fire and stepping into a warming tent supplied by Murrysville Emergency Medical Services.

When the fire was out, crews found it tough to roll up fire hoses coated with ice.

“Both of our trucks were pretty well frozen up, too,” Black said.

When firefighters returned to their stations, it took several hours to thaw the hose and trucks and prepare them for the next call, he said.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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