UPDATE 4/11/2013@11:15 p.m.
HURRICANE, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- West Virginia American Water is offering a $1,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of fire hydrant vandals in Putnam County.
Officials say eleven hydrants were opened Sunday in the Route 34 area of Hurricane, some along Turkey Creek Road and Kelley Creek Road.
They say 800,000 gallons were wasted in the act of vandalism, which cost the company about $11,000 in repairs. That cost is ultimately transferred to the customers.
"It's really a senseless act of vandalism," external affairs manager Laura Jordan said. "It's not only the cost that our customers have to pay, but also the roads and yards that were flooded."
Casey Ellis says one of those roads was near his home on Turkey Creek Road. He drove through the mess Sunday and noticed how the water washed away much of the road.
"It was a pretty deep hole," he said. "It washed all of the gravel off into the field."
Ellis says he hopes the vandals are caught so that neighbors don't have to pay the price.
"We have to pay for every gallon, and when they lose, we have to pay for that too," he said.
But Jordan says the cost of the crime could have far exceeded the current bill since fire departments depend on the hydrants to save lives.
"There could have been a real issue if fire trucks had arrived on the scene and not had the water pressure that they needed," she said.
Jordan says the vandalism happened sometime before 3 a.m. It took crews about three hours to get it all cleaned up.
About 100 customers were put out of water that morning.
The incident happened last weekend along Route 34, Turkey Creek Road and Kelley Creek Road between Hurricane and Hamlin.
According to a news release, the vandals opened 11 fire hydrants in the area, causing water outages for approximately 100 customers and low water pressure for others in the area.
The vandalism not only caused the outages, but property damage and equipment failures.
Company officals estimate 800,000 gallons of water were lost due to the vandalism. That volume of water flooded roads and properties in the area. One hydrant was broken during the incident.
“Even though water is relatively inexpensive at about a penny per gallon, the bigger issue is public safety and fire protection,” said Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water. “If there had been a house fire or brush fire in this area during the early morning hours, the responding fire department would have arrived to inadequate water pressure and been unable to effectively fight the fire putting lives and property at stake.”
West Virginia American Water is offering a $1,000 reward for information resulting in the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for this incident.
If you have information, you're urged to call the Putnam County Sheriff's Department at 304-586-0256.
“Our customers should be outraged by this senseless act of vandalism and rightly so,” McIntyre said. “Not only did it present a potential fire hazard for customers in the area, it also needlessly drives up operational costs, which are paid for through customers’ water rates.”
McIntyre also says drastic changes in water pressure and the rapid and untrained operation of fire hydrants can damage underground infrastructure and lead to future water main breaks.
Company officials also encourage customers who witness the unauthorized use of a fire hydrant to call the company’s 24/7 Customer Service Center at 800-685-8660.
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