Fire, accidents keep first responders out in the cold

Published 6:05 pm Thursday, January 4, 2018

Wednesday night into Thursday morning was a busy time for Beaufort County first responders with two separate structures fires, a string of accidents on the U.S. Highway 17 Bypass bridge and a single-car accident that resulted in a fatality.

“It was a busy night. Our crews never really slowed down until about 5 o’clock this morning,” Chris Newkirk, operations chief of fire and emergency management for Beaufort County, said on Thursday.

Newkirk said it was right after sunset Wednesday when 911 calls started coming in.

A fire was reported in the Blounts Creek area — a single-wide mobile home deemed a total loss. Though the home was occupied, no one was injured. Newkirk said the cause of the fire will likely be unknown until the snowfall has cleared on Monday.

Around the same time, a report of an accident on the U.S. Highway 17 Bypass bridge came in, but by the time Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS responded, there were more accidents being called in from the bridge.

“At the time the first crew got to the scene, we were getting calls from them on the scene and from 911 about other accidents,” Newkirk said. “It was hard to track accurately, but the best we can determine, we had six accidents involving a total of 14 cars.”

Newkirk said Washington, Old Ford Volunteer Fire Department, Beaufort County EMS and Chocowinity Volunteer Fire Department all ended up on the bridge, with the Chocowinity squad handling accidents on the south side.

“We had crews on the bypass until almost 9 o’clock last night,” Newkirk said.

Near midnight Pinetown Volunteer Fire Department was called out to another structure fire at N.C. Highway 32 at Windley Canal Road, and this time the weather worked against first responders. Pinetown VFD Capt. Doug Bissette said the three inches of snow that had accumulated slowed down response time for Pinetown, as well as for mutual aid responders Bunyan and Pantego volunteers.

“There was heavy fire on our arrival, and a slight delay in response due to weather,” Bissette said. “Once we could get people there, we had people, but getting people there was our issue.”

Bissette said the second fire was also a single-wide mobile home considered a total loss. Again, the structure was occupied but the person living there was able to get out. The cause of the fire appeared to be a space heater set up too close to some furnishings, he said.

While fire crews had no problem fighting the fire, when it came time to leave the scene, the cold once again interfered, Bissette said: all the water sprayed to put out the fire turned to slush and ice and water began freezing in the hoses before they could be fully emptied.

Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS would also respond to another accident, this one fatal. Around 2:30 a.m., the call came in reporting a single-car accident on Tool House Road, off Slatestone Road, north of Washington.

“Units responded and found a single car on its roof with one person inside that was a confirmed fatality,” Newkirk said.

North Carolina State Highway Patrol could not be reached Thursday for more information about the fatal accident.