Fire guts White Pines house as firefighters hampered by water main breaks

Updated 9/21/2018 5:14 PM
  • A house on Woodland Avenue near Bensenville valued at roughly $600,000 was destroyed by a fire Thursday after firefighters were thwarted by water main breaks that disabled nearby hydrants.

    A house on Woodland Avenue near Bensenville valued at roughly $600,000 was destroyed by a fire Thursday after firefighters were thwarted by water main breaks that disabled nearby hydrants. Courtesy of the Village of Bensenville

Firefighters from five suburban agencies were battling a massive house fire in an unincorporated part of DuPage County near Bensenville Thursday evening when their hoses went dry after about five minutes.

Two breaks in the 71-year-old water mains within the White Pines neighborhood rendered nearby hydrants useless, Bensenville Fire Protection District Chief Michael Spain said.

As the fire raged -- eventually gutting the $600,000 two-story, brick house on the 17W100 block of Woodland Avenue -- firefighters were further hampered by the 1,000-foot setback of the house from the road.

Eventually, they staggered engines every 300 feet down the driveway in order to pump water brought in by other specialty trucks. Spain said about $20 million in equipment was used in a futile two-hour effort to extinguish the fire.

After initially getting the call at 7:53 p.m., fire officials declared the fire extinguished shortly after 10 p.m. Spain believes the fire had been burning for nearly an hour before it was discovered.

"By that time, it had partially just burned itself out," Spain said.

No firefighters were injured in the blaze. And the home, which authorities said has been for sale for nearly a year, was unoccupied.

Firefighters from fire protection districts or departments in Addison, Itasca, Elmhurst and Wood Dale assisted Bensenville. The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the DuPage County Arson Task Force, Spain said.

"It was incredibly frustrating to watch the firefighters trying to do their job but unable to do their jobs," said Bensenville Village Manager Evan Summers, who was at the scene of the fire for most of the evening.

Fire and village officials said the inability to properly fight Thursday's fire is another example of why the White Pines neighborhood of some 280 homes is in desperate need of water infrastructure upgrades. Summers said this is the third fire in the last three years that's been hampered by issues related to the aged water mains installed in 1947.

"This tells us what we've known for a long time, which is replacing these water mains is a life-safety issue," Summers said.

The village and the unincorporated residents of White Pines have been at odds for decades over the costs of upgrading the water system. The residents believe the village is trying to strong-arm them into annexing into the village by inflating the cost of the project.

Plans to replace the water system are underway.

Bensenville is going to apply for a loan from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to help fund the project.

If the village gets the loan, White Pines residents will see their water rates climb to $27.50 per 1,000 gallons from the current $15 rate, Summers said. The extra money will be used to pay off the loan. If they choose to annex, the rates won't be as high and money from new property taxes would be used to offset the cost of the loan.

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