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Fire hard to extinguish in balloon-frame homes; poses risks to firefighters

Boone County fire officials said that one reason a home was destroyed by a fire in Sturgeon on Sunday morning was because of its balloon frame.

Balloon-frame structures haven’t been built since the 1930s, but homes of that kind are still around across the United States.

In balloon-frame homes, there are no fire stops or blocks from the base of the home to the roof. They were built with long pieces of wood that ran from bottom to top.

Fire officials said the structure of balloon-frame homes allows fire to spread through the walls, without stopping, in a matter of minutes.

Gale Blomenkamp, assistant fire chief for the Boone County Fire Protection District, said younger firefighters usually don’t know what a balloon-frame structure is. He said the older firefighters have to teach them whenever they respond to a fire at one.

Blomenkamp said responding to a fire at a balloon-frame structure can be very dangerous for firefighters because the fire will be in the basement and in the attic.

He said the only way to try to salvage a balloon-frame home that is on fire is to have a lot of firefighters arrive at the scene as quickly as possible.

“The fire chase on those walls goes from floor to ceiling, and if you don’t have crew and a number of crews to get water in those fire chases, you’re going to lose the battle,” Blomenkamp said.

He said that balloon-frame homes are not dangerous to live in as long as the occupants are aware of the possible issues and have multiple working smoke alarms in the house.

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