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Weathering the cold: Columbia, Boone County firefighters tackle surge in house fires


Officials from the Columbia Fire Department and Boone County Fire Protection District say the amount of fires they respond to on any given week is random. However, the recent cold front that swept across Mid-Missouri may have played a role in a number of house fires that broke out.

Columbia Fire and Rescue online dispatch logs show crews from the Columbia Fire Department, Boone County Fire Protection District and Southern Boone County Fire Protection District responded to 22 structure fires during the 14-day period of Jan 7-21. Fourteen of those calls took place within the past week.

Around this time last year, available data on the dispatch logs shows 12 calls for "structure fires" were made from Jan. 14-21, 2023. That total was tied for the highest number of "structure fire" calls for 2023 with the period lasting Feb. 26-March 4.

“There is really no rhyme or reason to it,” Columbia Fire Department Capt. Ryan Adams told ABC 17 News after helping put out a fire on the 2500 Block of Ridgefield Road on Saturday. “It just happens. This week with the extreme temperatures we have had an increase in fire duty.” 

Three of the house fires in Boone County came on Saturday alone.

“We tend to run more house fires in the winter time especially related to heating of homes,” Jeffrey Heidenreich, assistant fire chief for the Columbia Fire Department, told ABC 17 News.  “There are a number of factors and quite frankly the cold is really hard on all the equipment.” 

Gale Blomenkamp, of the Boone County Fire Protection District, said he wasn’t surprised by the number of calls within the past week because of the extreme temperatures. 

“When you get temperatures that cold, a lot of things don’t function normally, including firetrucks, including the difficulty on firefighters,” Blomenkamp said. “Furnaces run longer, space heaters are more abundant, secondary means of heat is more common, people trying to thaw out pipes that are frozen, those are just some of the things that cause this.” 

Blomenkamp added the overall number of calls doesn't change during the winter months, but the types of calls do, however. 

“In the wintertime, we are going to run those alternative heat source types of fires. I.E. space heaters, people thawing out pipes, chimney flue fires,” Blomenkamp said. "But in the summertime, we’re running natural cover fires and grass fires, those types of things that we aren’t running right now."

Winter weather can also have a significant impact on response times. Blomenkamp witnessed that firsthand as Boone County Fire responded to a call on a wet, and rainy Monday morning. 

“To any response, I would just tell you that the road conditions like this morning -- or even last week --when they were slick could add a minute to several minutes to any response,” Blomenkamp said. “There are calls that I guarantee you took 15-or-20 minutes to get to today that would normally take five minutes to get to.” 

Heidenreich added that firefighters try to get to a scene as quickly as possible, but they still have to ensure they are arriving safely or else more issues could arise. 

“Anytime that there is snow conditions or icy conditions out there, just like everybody else, we have to be cautious as we drive our fire apparatus around the city and respond to emergencies,” Heidenreich said. “Out of an abundance of caution of safety when responding during any inclement weather, you are likely to see a small reduction in response times.” 

Blomenkamp said the weather conditions don’t impact how crews put out the fire, firefighters do have to take extra precautions, with specifically with fire pumps.

“When we are seeing these extreme temperatures like we had last week, we have to drain our fire pumps,” Blomenkamp said. “Those firetrucks carry water. Our engines carry 750 gallons, and our tankers carry 1,500 gallons but then the pump is wet. And that pump is exposed to the outer elements. In the winter time when it’s below 20 degrees, we have to drain those pumps so they’re considered dry and don’t freeze up on the way to the call.”

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Mitchell Kaminski

Mitchell Kaminski is from Wheaton, Illinois. He earned a degree in sports communication and journalism from Bradley University. He has done radio play-by-play and co-hosts a Chicago White Sox podcast.


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