The large and deadly blazes that Chicago firefighters have
battled this week have posed an additional challenge,
courtesy of the city's coldest temperatures in nearly two
years: ice - and lots of it.
Ice can undermine efforts to extinguish flames. It can seal
hydrants, crack hoses, make stairs and ladders treacherous,
and weigh down buildings and firefighters, Deputy Fire
Commissioner of Operations John McNicholas said.
"Things that normally work well in regular, normal, warmer
temperatures, when you start to encase them in ice, you can
have (problems)," McNicholas said.
Hundreds of Chicago firefighters responded to two large
blazes this week in sub-freezing temperatures, including one
high-rise apartment fire that left two people dead.
In the fire that broke out on Tuesday morning (local time) in
a Chicago condominium building, ice wasn't a big factor
because the fire was mostly fought inside the building.
Though the National Weather Service estimated the temperature
hovered around zero, very little hose was exposed and the
fire was contained within an hour, Langford said.
That was not the case for a fire that engulfed a large
Chicago warehouse around 9pm on Tuesday. Since the building
was unstable, firefighters decided to fight the rare 5-11
alarm fire from the outside, using a "surround and drown"
approach, Chicago Fire Department spokesman
Larry Langford said.
Although firefighters encountered some frozen hydrants, water
supply was not difficult to establish on the street, allowing
responders to dump hundreds of thousands of gallons of water
on the burning building.
So much water was used, in fact, that a small weather system
developed over the fire, dropping light snow on the scene,
The water on the ground quickly turned to ice, coating the
firefighters, hoses, engines, ladders and the building.
"It's safe to say we had about 8 inches of ice in the front
of the building because there's equipment, a hose that was on
the street, that was buried by the ice. And then of course
the building, itself, probably had a coating of three or four
inches of ice on it," McNicholas said. "Some described it as
a very large ice castle."
By Wednesday afternoon, a handful of firefighters were still
attempting to put out flames hidden beneath the frozen
The ruined buildings remained shrouded in white, icicles
jutting along the glassless windows.