A house burned down on 11500 block of Skipwith Lane on Nov. 2 — that was the routine part.
Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department was conducting a training exercise by burning down a house which was going to be razed by its owner.
“We actually got to do tests with the training chief,” said Jim Seavey, chief of Cabin John.
The crews tested some of the department’s new procedures in a “live fire,” an invaluable training tool. “We found out quite a number of obscure issues that would arise as a result of the policy,” Seavey said.
Some neighbors were impressed by the display. “It was smoking for about two hours before it really started to burn,” said Jenni Hunt, 17 a student at Holton-Arms. “It went really quickly from the outside to the inside.
After the fire was put out, things got exciting. “We were finished and we had several hoses hooked up to the fire hydrant,” Seavey said.
The ground under the hydrant started to swell. “The hydrant started coming out of the ground. Then it leaned over and the water started shooting,” Seavey said.
Seavey estimated the height of the geyser at about two feet. “It’s a tremendous volume of water, but its not under a lot of pressure,” he said.
The facts of the afternoon get muddied here.
Seavey states that he contacted his superiors who then put in a call to WSSC, who is responsible for the water line, about 4 p.m.
Chuck Brown, spokesman for WSSC says they got the call at 5:12 p.m.
Seavey says that WSSC got there, “maybe a little before 9 p.m.”
Brown says that WSSC arrived on the scene at 8 p.m. and had the main shut down at 9:30 p.m. “Usually we’d like to get there in about two hours, but we were very busy with leaks going into homes,” Brown said.
A shut-off valve is present at each hydrant. “It was, unfortunately, buried,” Brown said of the value at this hydrant.
“They moved back one valve and shut off the valve, which impacted 10 customers.”
The reasons for the eruption may never be known. Brown gave several reasons for why the pipe, an iron pipe with a six inch diameter, might rupture. “Any shifting of the earth underneath, changes in temperature, age, there’s a number of factors,” he said.
“It’s very rare,” Brown said, “sometimes, if it’s shut down too quickly, that can cause a surge of pressure. That’s what some of the crews were thinking.” He stressed that it is purely speculation.
Seavey states that his crews followed procedure correctly. (see letter page 8)
The neighbors on Skipwith, besides having a small stream flowing through their yards, didn’t mind too much.
“It was just a huge nuisance really,” said Meg Passaic. “I was home and my water pressure was low.”
WSSC had water restored to the homes the next morning, and they expect to have the hydrant replaced by Nov. 6. They will also do necessary landscaping in their right-of-way. “If that doesn’t happen before the frost, we’ll be sure to do it in the spring.