Fire forces examination of New Kent’s water systems
Public concern over a house fire in a New Kent subdivision, during which water storage tanks quickly ran out of water as fire fighters battled the blaze, has led fire and government officials to reexamine the effectiveness of county-owned systems when it comes to supplying water for fighting fires.
A recent study conducted by the county’s public utilities department reveals that eight of the county’s 12 water systems have “limited capabilities.”
Statistics were revealed to county Board of Supervisors members during their Tuesday work session. Supervisors reacted by voting to apply for a Virginia Department of Health grant to pay for an engineering study that will detail water system problems and make corrective recommendations in the subdivision where the fire took place.
Public utilities director Larry Dame told board members that four systems — those in Brickshire, New Kent Courthouse, Bottoms Bridge, and the Interstate 64 corridor — are adequate for fire suppression. Problems, he said, exist in The Colonies where the latest fire took place, along with Minitree Glen, White House Farms, Kenwood Farms/Greenwood Estates/Deerlake, Quinton Estates, Quinton Park, Sherwood Estates, and Woods Edge.
Dame said newer developments in the county boast large capacity water storage tanks along with pumps and water mains capable of producing water flow needed for fire suppression. Problems crop up in older subdivisions that either have small storage tanks, inadequate pumps, or narrow water lines, he said.
And in some developments, all three shortcomings exist. Such was the situation in The Colonies where an Aug. 16 fire leveled a house (see story on page 4). Fire fighters exhausted the subdivision’s storage tanks just 15 minutes into battling the blaze.
“The Colonies has three 25,000-gallon tanks and a 5,000-gallon hydro-tank that we believe were close to being full, but it doesn’t take fire fighters long to go through that,” Dame told the board.
He said the subdivision’s water lines, ranging in diameter from 2 to 6 inches, and its 350-gallon per minute pump contributed to the situation. Those dimensions and pumping rate would be adequate to fight a fire in houses in the 1,200 to 1,400 square-foot range, he added.
“Houses are larger today,” he said. “You need a minimum of 1,000 gallons per minute, and 6-inch lines will not do it. You need a minimum 8-inch line.”
The Colonies’ water system dates from 1976. A system about the same age (1975) in White House Farms has only one 15,000-gallon storage tank along with a 5,000-gallon hydro-tank and two 70 GPM pumps.
Sherwood Estates has one 10,000-gallon tank, a 2,000-gallon hydro-tank, and two 75 GPM pumps. Six-inch lines run down the middle of the street, thus upgrades would prove difficult without affecting water quality, Dame said. By contrast, Minitree Glen has a 980 GPM pump and 12-inch mains, but only a 60,000-gallon storage tank, he said.
The system in Kenwood Farms/Greenwood Estates/Deerlake is being upgraded to a 125,000-gallon storage tank, Dame said. Two existing tanks hold 50,000 and 45,000 gallons, respectively. Three pumps operate in the 220-310 GPM range.
The other three subdivisions — Quinton Estates (30,000-gallon tank, 500 GPM pump), Quinton Park (two 30,000-gallon tanks, 914 GPM pump), and Woods Edge (50,000-gallon tank, 609 GPM pump) — have water mains up to 8-inches in diameter.
Dame said solutions the county can consider include installing more “dry hydrants” that draw water from nearby ponds and lakes, installing more ground-level storage tanks and upgrading pump capacity, or building elevated storage tanks.
The latter would be the most expensive, he said, with the smallest tank (300,000 gallons) costing upwards of $1.5 million. Pumps, however, would not be needed since the system operates by gravity.
The ground tank/pump upgrade option comes with a $500,000 price tag, he said.
“But that gives us only two hours protection and we’d be at the mercy of mechanical systems that could fail,” he added.
Dry hydrants, meanwhile, would be limited to the availability of nearby water sources.
Supervisors voted 5-0 to proceed with the VDH grant application process. If approved, the grant provides up to $25,000 to fund an engineering study on a specific water system, Dame said.
Supervisors acted to get in under this Friday’s application deadline, but there is no guarantee New Kent will receive money since grants are awarded on a competitive basis. There is no local match required.
Assistant county administrator Bill Whitley told the board that it is unlikely grant money will stretch beyond funding a study for The Colonies.
District 5 Supervisor Ray Davis questioned the need for a study since Dame’s department has already identified problems in The Colonies.
“[The study] will give us a hydraulic model that shows proper fire flows anywhere in the subdivision,” Dame responded, adding a study will also examine all aspects of the existing system.
The county, meanwhile, is taking steps to improve its fire fighting capabilities. County Fire Chief Tommy Hicks said the fire department is expecting delivery of a new $325,000 tanker truck with 2,500-gallon capacity by the end of September, and a used tanker, purchased from the Virginia Air National Guard, should be in service within the next 45 days.
The county’s long-range Capital Improvement Plan has additional fire stations penciled in, including a station in the Lanexa area. Davis said a Lanexa station concept was explored about six years ago at the request of residents, but nothing transpired as interest waned.
District 4 Supervisor Stran Trout said the Lanexa station idea faded for lack of volunteers, but added he has spoken with several retired fire fighters who live in the area and could revive the concept.
“If we can get volunteers out,” Davis said, “we can probably find a truck to put there.”