Pipe-Heating Fires on the Rise in the Basin

Nick Lawton
NewsWest 9

MIDLAND - The number of house fires in the Basin caused by people using portable heaters and torches has spiked in the last week.

As the pipes froze over multiple times in the last week, more and more West Texans are turning to their portable heaters and torches to thaw them out and get their water running again.

But that causes the pipes to heat up fast and catch the wood around them up in a blaze.

"January, February, house fires are the most prevalent," Midland Fire Marshal, Jeff Meiner, said. "And the causes are heating appliances or people trying to thaw out their pipes."

According to local fire departments, three fires in Midland in the last week and three throughout Odessa were all caused by pipe-heating.

One in Midland happened on Thursday morning on Harvard Avenue.

The homeowner there had used a torch on his pipes twice in the past when they froze, but when the third time came on Thursday,  the homeowner smelled smoke and dialed 911.

He wouldn't go on camera but showed NewsWest 9 the damage the fire left to one of his house's walls.

Pipe fires can be very dangerous.

The homeowner said he saw no flames until the fire department kicked the wall outside his kitchen in and saw the flames rushing across the two-by-fours by the pipe.

The flames were heading up toward the attic until firefighters stopped them.

Pipe fires hide inside the walls and firefighters told the Harvard homeowner he was just minutes from losing his home had they not arrived when they did.

"The fire will start inside the wall," Meiner said. "It's hidden, undetected, and it'll burn up into your attic, and a lot of times the neighbors will call the fire in because you don't know it's burning until the fire bursts through your roof."

This time, the homeowner can make repairs and avoid being homeless, and Midland firefighters are stressing the right way to take care of frozen pipes should the weather turn cold again.

"Be prepared for the next time," Meiner said. "Wrap your pipes. Make sure the pipes that are exposed, try to wrap them with insulation. And if they do freeze, the best thing to do is go ahead and just turn your water off and wait for the thaw."