Eye on Ivan
Thursday, September 16, 2004
Some observations from our ride-along with Gulfport Fire Department Chief Pat Sullivan, who's been the journalists' best friend for sure ...
Chief Sullivan waved us to head out in a hurry at about 12:45 a.m. There was a house fire on East Beach Boulevard in Gulfport he was headed to. Turns out, it was a flare-up at the previously mentioned house earlier Thursday. The fire department had responded to residence at 1570 East Beach (at the corner of Allan Road) after a tree fell on the power line headed to the house. That caused the wiring inside to become overloaded and damaged, sparking smoldering in the attic. After waiting for Mississippi Power to come and de-energize the fallen power line, firemen saw a charring around the area where the lines feed into the house and tried to cool down some hot spots. They left hoping they had gotten them all taken care of.
Unfortunately, they didn't which made their fears come true. When we arrived, smoke was pouring out across Beach Road, which is the service road that runs in front of the Naval Home about a half-mile from the Biloxi city limits. The smoke made your eyes burn at first. We followed Sullivan up through the front yard, which was littered with small oak branches through the smoke, which we soon saw was billowing out from the carport on the east side of the house. We walked around to the northeast corner to observe the firemen, seeing more smoke coming out from under the eaves. The windows of the house were boarded up and two cars remained in the garage behind the house. On one side of the door from the garage to the house was a small sign that read "WARNING -- POLICE SIGNAL"; on the other side were the main circuit breaker boxes that had been opened for access earlier in the night.
Firefighters began climbing to the roof with a charged fire hose, trying to locate the source of the smoke. They apparently did and began to open the roof to gain access in roughly the center of the house. Smoke appeared to be coming from every where in the house except the lonely chimney. Sullivan warned the photographers to be ready for a burst of flames -- and seconds later his prediction came true. Fueled by oxygen that suddenly fed into the attic, a quick flare burst from the hole. It sent the firefighters back to the north where they climbed back down. From there, they entered through the front door. A couple minutes later, we saw a stream of water shoot out from the hole in the roof as they tried to douse the fire and cool things down.
We saw the team of about eight firefighters moving in and out of the house. They brought in thermal imagers to detect hot spots. As Sullivan would later say, the house could probably be saved by the owners. It hadn't burned to the ground.
We left there to drive around in the College Park neighborhood behind the Naval Home and around Anniston Elementary. We got out of the car at one point to move several branches that had blocked the road. As we made our way to Pass Road, Sullivan heard a report on the department's radio circuits about a fire alarm at the America's Thrift Store on Pass Road. We made a U-turn to go back to the east so he could investigate. It's a large, one-story, windowless building (formerly a Service Merchandise store). The front entry doors had been boarded up completely, except for a strip at the top about 15 feet up where you could see the flashing lights of the alarm inside. There was no sign of smoke coming from doors or out of vents in the roof. Sullivan drove around the building, again with no sign of fire. A fire engine arrived shortly thereafter and they waited to see if someone with a key for the building could be found to let them in. We left to continue our tour. (Later, we heard the keyholder wouldn't come until Thursday during the day.)
We drove through the neighborhood around Washington Ave., back toward Bernard Bayou. Just west of the intersection of Tegarden and Commerce, a tree had fallen to block the road. It was a fortunate occurence, even though it knocked a power pole down with it and ripping down power lines. It had fallen squarely in the street and not on a nearby house. Commerce was completely blocked, and will be until power crews can come out and cut off power to the lines so the tree can be cut down and removed.
The rest of the next couple of hours were spent with images reinforcing what we'd already seen at the start of the ride. There is virtually no standing water on U.S. 90. I mean, three guys driving down the highway spitting juice from a big chaw would put more liquid on the road. (OK, a slight exaggeration, but nearly every summer afternoon thunderstorm puts five times more water across the road than what we saw tonight.)
The roads are empty except for a few public safety cars and the odd person trying to check on a house. They are politely stopped and asked to hurry about their business.
What about the title of this entry? Well, for many years my father was a paramedic and volunteer fireman. You could always tell when he came home from a fire. There'd be this smokey smell I've covered in from our first stop tonight permeating the house. So, I'm thinking about him early this morning. He's usually down here at the courthouse helping at Civil Defense. He's in North Carolina now, though, working for FEMA trying to help the people who were flooded by another in this horrific streak of storms, Frances.
I smell smokey and I'm thinking about him.
-- posted by Don Hammack
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