Cheswold Fire Shines Spotlight on Hydrant Issue - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Cheswold Fire Shines Spotlight on Hydrant Issue in Old Town Neighborhood

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CHESWOLD, Del. (WBOC) - Tuesday's big fire in Cheswold is shining a bright light on a serious public safety hazard in the town's historic section.

That fire destroyed a home on New Street in Cheswold's "Old Town" neighborhood. Everyone living there escaped unhurt, but three of their dogs died in the fire.

"My whole house is gone," said Carol Achuff. "I never thought this would ever happen to me."

Firefighters faced challenges getting water to fight the flames.

Houses use well water in that part of Cheswold. That means there are no water lines under New Street, and no water lines means no fire hydrants.

"The problem is we have no hydrants," said Cheswold Police Chief Chris Workman. "The firefighters get here. They do a great job. But they have to lay a line that's way down the street to get a hydrant."

That hydrant was nearly a fifth of a mile away from Achuff's home.

The hydrant issue also popped up during a different fire last year just a short distance from the scene of Tuesday's fire.

Sam Callender, Cheswold's secretary-treasurer, knows the lack of hydrants in old town is a very real problem and is seeking a federal grant to study the costs of putting them there.

"It's going to be incredibly expensive. I don't know exactly how much. But it's going to be hundreds of thousands of dollars," Callender said. "And then even once the engineering study is done, most of the grants we could get for the infrastructure, we would have to submit matching funds. We don't have them."

Callender says Cheswold's overall annual budget is only $600,000 in the first place.

The fire department agrees the hydrant problem is serious. But Steve Martin, a past chief for the department, says firefighters can work around it - to an extent.

"Since we used to be a non-hydrant district - we had none - we carry 1,000 gallons of water on each apparatus. So, we have a good start to make on the fire."

Martin says 1,000 gallons is about 10 minutes of water. That gives them time to lay a line to a far away hydrant and makes a fire like Tuesday's handleable.

"But if this happened in the middle of the night, and there was a 50 mph wind, it could take multiple houses, because it just takes so much water," Martin said.

Callender says she's really hoping, and working to see if, there's a way to solve this safety issue. The town has written letters to state lawmakers for help. But for now, the problem remains. And it looks like it will continue to remain a long time to come.

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