A Brentwood house fire raged unchecked for about 20 minutes Sunday as firefighters on the scene, hobbled by two frozen hydrants, rushed to get water from others nearby, officials said.
At least nine people who escaped the blaze unharmed looked on in their pajamas Sunday morning as the Pelham Drive house went up in flames, the homeowner said.
Fire department officials said there were 11 occupants in the house. Some time after the first engine arrived at 7:31 a.m., firefighters tried to tap two dry barrel hydrants and realized they were frozen, said Brentwood Fire Department Chief Eric Raudies.
"We had a problem getting water on the fire," he said. "I couldn't commit my men to a burning structure fire without a means of [getting] water, so it did hamper" the response effort, he said.
Eventually, firefighters were able to get water from two working hydrants nearby, Raudies said. "During all that time . . . my house is getting destroyed," said homeowner Anthony Gonzalez, 33, who fled the structure with his wife, two of their daughters and five other family members. "We have nothing. Everything that we owned, everything that we cherished . . . it's gone."
All the displaced residents are staying with a relative in Brentwood, Gonzalez said.
About 120 firefighters from six departments responded to the blaze, and seven suffered minor injuries, officials said.
Three firefighters were treated for burns to the face or arm at Stony Brook University Medical Center and four were taken to Southside Hospital and treated for smoke inhalation, authorities said. All were released Sunday.
Raudies said he did not know the cause of the hydrants' malfunction, the first case that he knew of where his department's staff encountered frozen hydrants. The cause of the fire was also unknown, he said.
Suffolk Fire Rescue and Emergency Services Commissioner Joseph Williams said such troubles are not rare, but he did not know of past problems with frozen hydrants in Suffolk. Such a problem can occur when water fails to drain from the part of the hydrant above the ground, known as the barrel, because of a leaky valve or other cause, Williams said.
"Sometimes the bad thing is you don't know the hydrant hasn't drained until you use the hydrant," Williams said.
A spokesman for the Suffolk Water Authority, Paddy South, said they were investigating the cause of the malfunction and the hydrants had been inspected in recent months.