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West Virginia man sues water company after his home burned as hydrants dry up

Ric Cavender called 911 almost as soon as his propane fireplace caught fire around 11 p.m. on May 5. Firefighters were dispatched to Cavender’s home in Charleston, W.Va., and arrived five minutes later. Preparing to put out the fire, they tapped the nearest fire hydrant but had no water. They tried another – nothing. Then a third – still nothing.

So Cavender watched the flames destroy his home and kill his dog, a four-year-old brindle boxer named Duke, in what his attorney described as “a devastating personal experience.”

Now Cavender, 40, is suing West Virginia American Water, the water utility that serves West Virginia’s capital of some 47,000 people. In a lawsuit filed Monday in Kanawha County Circuit Court, he alleges American Water was negligent in not ensuring there was sufficient water pressure to service the outlets. of fire. His attorney, Mike Hissam, told the Washington Post that those fire hydrants are still not working, putting an unknown number of residents at risk.

“People are scared to death there,” Hissam said.

In a statement released four days after the fire, the company said all three hydrants last passed inspection in July. After the fire, he removed them from service, met with city officials to discuss “hydrant concerns” and agreed to work with firefighters to find others who could “produce a insufficient flow”. American Water declined to comment on Cavender’s allegations on Wednesday and would not respond to questions about whether the hydrants had been repaired.

“West Virginia American Water is committed to working alongside the City of Charleston and the Charleston Fire Department to resolve any issues with the three hydrants of concern and return them to service as soon as possible,” said the company in the press release.

On May 5, Cavender was having friends over, Hissam said. That night, he lit his propane-powered fire pit on his back patio for the first time this season. After letting it run for about 1.5 hrs he called it a night and turned it off. The hearth made a “weird click” and “didn’t act properly,” Hissam said.

“The next thing he knew was that he was engulfed in flames,” he added.

Cavender, the executive director of a nonprofit who moonlights as a school board member, ripped out his fire extinguisher, but it didn’t work, Hissam said. He called 911 and firefighters showed up about five minutes later, ready to save his home, only to scurry around the neighborhood in a futile search for a working fire hydrant, the suit says. Eventually, a nearby Volunteer Fire Department and Air National Guard firefighters assisted by supplying their Charleston counterparts with tank trucks.

“This relief came too late for Mr. Cavender,” the suit alleges. “By then the thick smoke had grown into an uncontrollable fire.”

As Cavender and others watched his house turn into hell, Duke slipped a friend’s grip and rushed inside. Cavender and a friend gave chase. Once inside, they repeatedly shouted the dog’s name and searched the house until smoke and flames forced them to retreat.

“It was chaos,” Hissam said.

Hours later, firefighters brought the blaze under control, forcing Cavender to stay in a hotel while scrambling to find a place to rent.

Several days after the fire, workers from a debris removal company called Cavender to say they had found Duke’s remains, which Cavender later identified. He and his two sons are devastated by the death of their dog, who was also loved by neighbors, Hissam said.

“Families in the neighborhood enjoyed seeing Duke’s tongue wagging as he hopped up and down on his hind legs at the fence as they passed,” the suit reads.

A day after the fire, Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin praised the Charleston Fire Department for responding with “urgency and determination” while calling their obstruction from the hydrant unacceptable. reported the WCHS.

“Rest assured, the city and our fire department will ensure that West Virginia American Water takes all necessary steps to ensure that the city’s fire hydrants are in good working order. This is paramount to public safety and the safety of our firefighters,” Goodwin said, according to WSAZ.

American Water wrapped non-functioning fire hydrants in plastic trash bags after the blaze and began digging up city streets to fix a problem “that should have been fixed a long time ago”, Hissam said. . The city grants the company a monopoly and will pay $160,000 this year to provide water to residents, the suit states, and in exchange, the company must do so reliably.

“That’s the deal,” Hissam said.


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