By Dick Placzek
Independent Staff Writer
Even with little or no water pressure available in town, Grand Island Fire Department and surrounding volunteer departments are capable of handling minor fires that could erupt.
But, according to George Arnett, chief of the City Fire Department, the major threat of fire officials is still gas leaks in the damaged areas of town.
"We have no idea what shape the gas lines are in," Arnett said. "The gas problem is still our worst problem and I don't think the gas will be turned on in the damaged areas at this time."
If a fire does break out, Arnett said the department's 3,000 gallon tanker and various other 200 gallon pumpers would be able to handle most emergencies.
"We actually use a little less than 100 gallons to fight residential fires but even with the large tanker we wouldn't be able to put out a three-alarm blaze," Arnett cautioned. He said city water would be turned on to fight a potentially huge blaze, but it still wouldn't put out a major fire.
And if a gas leak starts a major fire, the damaged areas scattered with dry debris would ignite like tinder.
Lt. Rick Olson of the Grand Island Fire Department said a city-wide burning ban has been imposed indefinitely.
Ken Hilligas, manager of the Grand Island division of Northwester Public Service Co., said he is aware of the possible dangerous situation of gas leakage and is "more concerned about it than Arnett."
Hilligas said gas was being turned on late Wednesday to some of the livable homes in the devastated districts. However, gas will be terminated at homes that were leveled and have no occupants.
The gas manager said it's been a misconception that all of the gas in town was shut off since the storm first struck Tuesday night but only 20 percent has actually been turned off.
"We're checking the homes to see if there is too much damage to restore the gas," Hilligas said. He said when gas is turned on, it includes a whole area of homes. The homes that are too badly damaged will be bypassed.
Officials at volunteer fire departments surrounding the Grand Island area are not overly concerned about the possibility of a fire outbreak.
Art Gulzow, chief of the southside Grand Island Rural Fire Department, said they transport most of their water to fight fires.
"We cover the perimeter of the city and pump water from any water available if we need more than we can carry," he said. "If there are lakes, irrigation wells or anyplace else with water, we could pump from them all night."
In addition to the city and volunteer fire departments, Arnett said trucks and workers from all over the area came to town and were prepared for any situation.
"We sent most of them home yesterday (Wednesday) because we thought our men could handle anything that should come up," Arnett said. "The Hastings tanker truck is still here because they were used to wash gas from overturned cars off the street."
Arnett said the state electrical inspector, the fire department and the state Marshall were starting a check Thursday afternoon of all damaged buildings in town and he urged all business owners with damage to call the station.
"We'll check all the buildings for gas leaks and see if they're structurally sound and electrically safe. We should make a heckuva dent in two-to-three days."
Arnett cautioned any one from going into the damaged buildings because of the threat of roofs collapsing.