Water Tower Fire Injures One Worker

Friday, May 14, 2010 - 1:46pm

One worker was injured at a fire inside a water tower on Madison's west side this afternoon. Paramedics treated the worker for smoke inhalation and transported him to University Hospital. The injuries are minor and he is expected to be released tonight.

Firefighters were called to 2722 Prairie Road at 2:15 PM for a fire burning in the water tower's stem. Units arriving on the scene saw black smoke venting from the top of the water tower. Due to its location and the limited access, the fire was difficult to reach with hose lines. Some of the fire was extinguished with a hose line taken into the entry door at the base of the tower. The remaining fire was attacked by directing a water stream from an aerial ladder into small access doors located on the side of the tower.

Firefighters did not know how the fire and heat would affect the tower structurally and evacuated several homes in the area immediately surrounding the tower. This was a precautionary move to protect the residents in case the water tower was weakened by the fire and collapsed. Residents were allowed to return to their homes once the fire was extinguished and personnel from the Madison Water Utility and the City Engineering Department inspected the water tower.

A water tower is an unusual place for a fire. Most water towers are made of steel, contain lots of water, and would not provide much material to burn. However, this tower contained a large volume of communication cables that connect to the cell phone antennas located on the outside of the tower. The water tower was empty at the time of the fire and was being repainted by a contractor.

A Madison Fire Department investigator learned that sparks from a worker's torch ignited the insulation and protective coating on the communication cables that are located inside the stem of the tower. Damage to the cables and paint on the tower is estimated at $400,000. The tower will be inspected by a structural engineer on Monday to determine if the tower needs any repairs.

Despite the difficulty in applying water to this fire, it was declared under control in 40 minutes.

  • Eric Dahl, 608-279-7148