Iowa Fire Officials Try Policy on Flood Zone Fires

December 6, 2012

The fire department in Cedar Rapids, Iowa has taken a different approach to how it battles blazes at buildings vacated after the 2008 flood.

Cedar Rapids Fire Department spokesman Greg Buelow said firefighters are expected to keep fires from spreading to other structures, but may choose not to enter the burning building because they are presumed to be vacant, the Gazette reported Tuesday.

The policy does not have directive from city officials, but Buelow said it allows officials to weigh the risk in each case.

“It is a little bit different, based on the circumstances,” he said. “The preference is not to get firefighters killed for a vacant house.”

A fire that destroyed a former grocery store Friday is believed to be the 39th blaze in areas affected by the 2008 floods. The building, built in the late 1800s, had been vacant since the city purchased it and was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Buelow said fires in flood-damaged neighborhoods often go unnoticed until flames have spread. And although fires can expedite the demolition of some of these buildings, it’s not a preferred route because of unnecessary expenses. For example, water used to stop a fire can add weight to demolished material and increase disposal fees.

Suspects have been arrested in connection with just two cases of the nearly 40 flood-zone fires. Authorities speculate intruders set fires in the vacant structures to keep warm or to cook.

Authorities said Friday’s fire was caused by a “human element” since the building had no utilities connected. They’ve also ruled out lightning or other natural causes.

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