Homeowners’ attempt to thaw water pipes leads to trailer fire

MILL HALL – On Sunday, Lisa Stevenson watched her husband and neighbors pull out charred wreckage from a burned skeleton of a trailer that just hours before had been their home at 13 Lionel Lane in Camelot Estates.

Her feet surrounded by puddles from water still streaming from her drenched lawn, she stared at their smoke-streaked, warped washer and dryer. Their ruined kitchen table. Blackened papers in a drawer curling up from flame. Her husband, Gil, pulled out scorched, unrecognizable clumps from the edges of the gutted floor, throwing them in a damp heap on the ground with the rest.

“It’s all replaceable,” Lisa, 52, said, shaking her head. “Thank God none of us were hurt.”

She called 911 at 12:20 p.m., she said, when the blaze began. Their water pipes had been frozen, and she and Gil, 66, had been trying to thaw them out by using a propane torch alongside the trailer. No one’s quite sure what exactly caught fire, but the blaze started beneath the trailer.

She and her husband got the dogs, cats and birds out safely. No one was injured.

Firefighters got the blaze under control around 2 p.m., said Bill Strunk, Mill Hall fire chief.

They had to cut the floor out since the flames were underneath and spread from there, and so had to bring all the Stevensons’ belongings onto the lawn.

“Trailers are a tin can. Over time, the wood keeps drying out … Trailers are dry and burn really well,” Strunk said. “They lost everything.”

Strunk advised people to use caution when thawing frozen pipes.

“If you have frozen pipes, be safe thawing them. You can even use a hair dryer, but not an open flame,” he said. “It is a problem in the area with open flames. People can even call a plumber to help.”

Strunk also noted that this time of year, people are trying to save money on heating costs, so they use space or floor heaters, which also can cause pipes to freeze. Heating with a gas stove also is unsafe, he said.

“Safety goes out the window, sometimes,” Strunk said about those quick heating fixes.

Lisa said this was the first time their pipes froze.

“We even wrapped them in heat tape,” she said.