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UPDATE: Renter reported house fire; Two firefighters suffered minor injuries

A home at the corner of 6th Street and Washington Ave. S. caught fire Wednesday night. The renter was unharmed, but two firefighters incurred minor injuries. (Photos by Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)1 / 2
Park Rapids and Menahga firefighters fought the blaze until midnight. The home was constructed in a balloon-frame style which allows fire to spread unimpeded. 2 / 2

Park Rapids and Menahga fire departments battled a house fire in freezing conditions Wednesday night.

With windchill, temperatures hovered at 20 below zero.

Park Rapids Fire Chief Don Hoffman said extreme cold poses unique hazards for firefighters and their equipment.

The initial 911 call came at 8:47 p.m. According to Hoffman, a young gentleman renting the home, located at the corner of 6th Street E. and Washington Ave. S. in Park Rapids, reported the blaze. He was uninjured.

Two firefighters did suffer minor injuries, Hoffman said.

Personal protective equipment is thermally insulated to protect firefighters from the heat of a fire and cold, he explained. However, firefighters are exposed to extreme heat while conducting an interior fire attack, then must deal with ice when they return outdoors and their clothing freezes.

Turnout gear "gets wet and real stiff," limiting movement, Hoffman said.

These multiple cycles of thawing and freezing present a serious challenge for crew, increasing the risk of hypothermia, fatigue, dehydration or frostbite.

"Breathing gear freezes up," he noted.

As a result, it was necessary to request additional breathing apparatus from the Nevis Fire Department during Wednesday's fire.

Cold-weather operations are equally dangerous for fire engines. Water must flow steadily to keep hoselines, ladder pipes, valves and pumps from freezing solid.

"It could freeze up the engine and take it out of service," Hoffman said.

For this reason, he explained, there was only one active fire engine at the scene. The others remained ready at the fire hall in the event of another call.

"The cold is in our favor as far as getting the fire out. We are trying to cool the fire down," he said.

The home itself created challenges as well. It was a balloon-frame construction, Hoffman said, using long, continuous studs from the basement to the rafters.

A common style from the 1880s to 1930s, balloon-framed houses create perfect, unobstructed passages for fire to spread easily and quickly. Fire moves unimpeded via the stud channels of the exterior walls.

That's why homes are no longer allowed to be built that way, Hoffman added. Today's platform frame construction has a horizontal fire break between each floor.

Sharon and Tom Condiff lived in the Washington Ave. home for 40 years. They sold it last spring.

"Lot of good memories. It was built in 1898. So many memories before us," Sharon posted on her Facebook page.

Firefighters cleared the scene at about midnight.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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