Two fires at the same West Side home on Wednesday were traced back to the homeowner thawing frozen bathroom water pipes with a torch and then later in the day with an electric heat gun, fire officials said.
“The first time we went to his house he was using a hand-held torch and we told him you can’t use an open flame. So he went and rented an electric heat gun,” Division Chief Patrick M. Britzzalaro said. “Some of these heat guns give off temperatures anywhere from 1,000 to 1,400 degrees, depending on the model, and that is sufficient enough to ignite old dry wood in a house like that.”
The first fire at 1177 West Ave., a 2 1/2-story residence, started in the first-floor bathroom wall at about 11:51 a.m. and caused minimal damage, with the homeowner succeeding in putting out the blaze before firefighters arrived.
“We know that fire was completely extinguished because we checked the walls with a thermal imaging camera,” the chief said.
But the second fire, at about 1:52 p.m., traveled up the interior bathroom wall, after the heat gun ignited wooden studs in the wall’s channels, Britzzalaro said. Damage was set at $10,000.
“Most of the homes where pipes freeze occur in residences that are much older and a lot of them do not have insulation,” he said. “This type of fire won’t be the last one we have while temperatures are in the single digits and teens, unless we get the word out that you can’t use an electric heat gun or an open flame.”
Unlike a fire at 200 Abbott Road two weeks ago, which left the occupants homeless after a tenant used an open-flame torpedo heater to try and defrost pipes in a crawl space under the house, the West Side man was able to remain in his home, but the chief said there was extensive damage.
A safe solution to avoid setting on fire a house with frozen pipes, Britzzalaro said, “is to hire a plumber. It’s a lot cheaper to hire the plumber than to rebuild your house or even a portion of it.”
Experts warn against ever using fire to thaw frozen pipes and recommend calling a plumber instead.