Ablaze In Needles: Fire Controversy Continues

In the infernal, 113 degree-plus background temperatures, five structures, a vehicle and expensive city transformers were consumed by fire last Saturday afternoon, July 16, in Needles, California. Controversy surrounds both the cause of the blaze and the reason for its spread to surrounding structures with fire fighters being called in from 3 fire stations in the adjoining state of Arizona, to assist San Bernardino County Fire District contain a blaze that lasted about three hours. “The fire on “Chestnut” illustrates how vulnerable our homes really are” says Mary Stein, Needles Fire Auxiliary executive director.
Old faulty wiring, careless rigging from electric thieves, meth lab explosion and outdated city transformers atop worn out wooden poles shot with bullets from afar are some of the theories though the official determination has yet to be released. It can be observed at the scene that the tops of two antiquated wooden power poles were “burnt like match sticks, “ reported David Buckley, a local journalist.
Needles city officials allowed Buckley to view and photograph both transformers that were involved. “Both showed signs of burning, but neither had exploded,” Buckley reported to the Sentinel. He said that Jack Lindley, Needles Electric Crew Supervisor,t explained to him that “Two of the expulsion fuses associated with the transformer blew” and that was probably the bang, bang multiple neighbors reported the heard along with other popping sounds.”
“Captain Dean Dickover, public information office, South Desert Division, on Wednesday told the Sentinel that he did not have a report to release and that the arson investigator was still reviewing the situation.
A neighbor at the scene told the Sentinel, she saw someone she had “never seen before” running down the street who called out saying “get out of here…its going to explode.” Shortly there after, she saw the house on fire that the unidentified person was running from. Several days following the fire, the Sentinel observed a large hole in the roof/ceiling of what was apparently the kitchen area of that house (Figure 1) while some portions of the ceiling of the adjacent living room and bedroom area appeared uncharred.
The fire was reported at 4:04 p.m. said a bystander. Wishing to remain anonymous, this person said the residents appeared alarmed that “it seemed so long for the fire truck to get there”… allegedly at 4:35-4:40, and “by that time the fire was spreading.” Neighbors who were observing stated that the first responder was the Fort Mojave Tribal Police, Jordan Butterfield, who saw the smoke from the Arizona side of the river and came over to investigate.
“The County Fire District responded to the call and was out the door immediately; they deserve credit for their timely response,” commented Buckley “Once county was on the scene, the fire progressed too rapidly for the resources available.” According to several observers however, the nearby fire hydrant was faulty requiring time to hook up to the one down the street and the three man crew was not suited up when they got there.
“I watched as the fire leapt from one building to an adjacent building—to me it seemed that the crew was over matched by the fire..they deserve our thanks, they worked hard and were trying very hard, but the situation kept expanding.” Buckley said. “I helped the fire fighter stretch the hose over to a palm tree in the next block to put out the fire.”
The Mohave County Fire Department arrived at the scene and reportedly their incident command requested that additional fire fighters be dispatched from Bullhead City and Fort Mohave Mesa Fire departments. Eventually responding were a total of 35 fire fighters from the area surrounding Needles as well as volunteers from the Northern Arizona Chapter of the American Red Cross to offer assistance to affected families it was locally reported. The fire is reported to have been contained several hours later at about 7pm.
If the fire indeed began in the house occupied by tenants, it spread and actually consumed major portions of the landlord’s home and their small guest cottage, their garage and truck and a neighboring vacant house. At some point a tree in the back yard appears to have ignited causing overhead power lines to burn. Early observations by neighbors who videotaped the catastrophe state that after the fire began to spread the city’s transformers had not yet blown saying, “there was multiple popping sounds” and attributed that to possible ammunition blowing up. The property on the south side of the yard wall appeared to be undisturbed by the fire which is further evidence that the transformer above had not exploded, but the wind was blowing northerly and a palm tree a block away, to the north, caught fire, reportedly due to blowing embers
“This incident highlights the needs for increased fire prevention measures in the City of Needles and the need for local residents trained to help assist fight fires and a City Fire Department devoted to the territory of the City,” Ruth Musser-Lopez, Administrator of the Needles Fire Auxiliary, told the Sentinel. Thank goodness that County Fire was in town and not responding to calls 60 miles away on I-40. “According to Captain Dickover, there is a crew of 3 firefighters in Needles at all times, working in shifts that change 3 times in a 24 hour period. That is nine firefighters 24/7. Something is not adding up. The County’s proposed budget called for six firefighters at $150,000 each per year. Firefighters in Barstow told me that we had two fire fighters and we recently got a third. The fire was a short distance from the fire house, about a half mile on city streets. If there was a three person crew in the fire house, how long should it take for them to jump on the truck and speed to a fire a half mile away? When it is hot and windy in Needles, a half hour and certainly, forty minutes, is too long.”

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