I have a high pressure 200-foot, 1-inch hose reel within 15 feet of my house. I have two fire extinguishers on every floor of my four-level home. I am plumbed to Hemp Hill Creek and can throw water on a fire at 70 psi forever or until the fire burns across any portion of the half-mile of unburied pipe supporting my primary fire protection.
My potable water system can be cross plumbed to my creek-driven fire suppression. It’s a violation of code, but could save the place if a forest fire comes for this house. I give free fire suppression to five neighbors’ homes. I realize that a fire that threatens a neighbor, threatens me.
It hasn’t always been thus for me. Not long after my pilgrimage to the Olympic Peninsula, my readiness to defend my home from fire was tested. On the upper Bogachiel, I had settled with my wife.
We had thrown up a 750-square foot structure for which we had invested $800. We used cheap 2 x4’s from Allen’s Mill building like wooden bricks.
When we got high enough on the wood brick walls to suspend a roof we bought 2 x 6’s from Larry McClanahan. Our ceiling was cedar t & g from Rosmonds and over that went tar paper and #4 shake since I had only budgeted $750 to build what would serve as our family residence for 22 years. But I almost burned it down that first year.
The roof had been on the thing for more than half a year, but I was still convening house warming parties with prodigious amounts of beer. I had purchased two 50-gallon plastic water barrels from the Sears catalog store in Forks.
I was collecting rain water from the roof, which ran into the barrels mounted outside the kitchen. The system only provided water to the kitchen sink. I had a small electric pump down at the creek which I had plumbed to a hose bib next to the cistern. But before this particular day in 1979, I was going to have party and didn’t want to mix raw creek water with the almost potable rain water.
On a morning following said party, the daughters of one of the celebrants fried bacon on a wood stove. I was stepping over empty beer cans. Taking breakfast orders, I circulated among guests that were scattered about in sleeping bags like bodies around an airline disaster.
It was August and at nine o’clock in the morning it was already on the way to being a hot day. When I went back inside to transmit orders to the girls cooking on the wood stove, I could hear a fire popping over the sizzling of bacon.
I looked up and could see that the roof was on fire and had already burned through by the tin chimney. I yelled, “Fire! Get out NOW!” I charged up the ladder to our sleeping loft, to retrieve the only fire extinguisher on the property. It was an old government surplus 10-pound dry chemical affair.
As I rummaged for the old extinguisher I could hear the cedar shakes popping and see into the flames by small holes burning through the ceiling. Sliding down the steep ladder like a fireman coming down the pole, I landed in the kitchen with the surplus extinguisher cradled in my arms. The girls were still frying bacon in a house-on-fire.”GET OUT OF HERE!” I roared. “The place is burning down!”
“We thought you were joking,” they replied, taking a sizzling frying pan of bacon off the wood stove and placing it in the sink. We stormed out the front door to find the sleepy and hung-over community sprung into action.
A couple was running towards the creek with a kid’s sand bucket and an empty salad bowl. Another couple were running around to the back of the house with a heavy 8-foot 2×6″ ladder I had built. My wife was running toward the generator shed.
The fire was on the rear roof of the cabin, so I chased the couple with the ladder. The ladder had not come up against the house, when I started climbing it.
Without stepping onto the roof, I could see the fire spreading across the shakes. A larger hole was forming around the chimney where the fire had started.
I pulled the safety ring from the old extinguisher, pointed at the base of the flames and squeezed the handle. Nothing happened! All was lost.
Then with a ROAR! lasting about 5-seconds, the extinguisher belched a great cloud of choking dust, which immediately knocked down the flames. But when the extinguisher ran dry, flames popped back to life like trick candles on a birthday cake.
Again, all seemed lost. I could hear the generator running. Someone called my name and I turned around to receive a charged hose that was operating off the pump I had left in the creek. The kid’s sand bucket and salad bowl made the brigade. Through a community effort, the day was saved!
The great value of building a cabin for $800 is not always carried over into repairs. The hole burned around the chimney was incorporated into the triple wall chimney we installed. But that investment doubled the price of the cabin. And a metal roof, in a few years, would double the investment again.
Br’er Chiggers Rules for Fire Protection Using Gravity Feed Water Systems
• Any party or social gathering of humans within the wilderness interface, where alcohol is going to be served (and possibly overserved), deserves a fire plan. Keep serviceable hoses in readiness next to hose bibs. Tap into an abundant supply of water before tapping the keg.
• In addition to water, make sure modern and serviceable extinguishers are in all strategic places, highly visible and known to celebrants.
• Any fire that comes from the forest will probably burn up any unburied pipe it encounters on its way to your house.
• Using small bore pipe to create gravity feed systems is financially attractive, but offers poor flow at high volume. From a hydroelectric perspective, even a high “gross head” can be rendered to a low “net head” by trying to run volume as in, FIRE! FIRE! Using a fire nozzle that comes to a sharp point, allows a lower volume, higher pressure, jet to be directed toward the base of the flames.
• Also, if pipe friction creates flow issues, a pressure tank can be plumbed to the system at the bottom and will give of whatever its capacity at full gross head.
• A shake or shingle roof is not a good choice for a house keeping a wood stove. Nor is it a good choice for roof-based cisterns. Roof-based cisterns have little value in fire protection.