WSAZ Investigates | Serving Notice on Blocked Hydrants

A Putnam County utility is serving notice on residents who block access to its fire hydrants, the direct result of an ongoing WSAZ investigation.
Published: Aug. 30, 2023 at 6:32 PM EDT
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TEAYS VALLEY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - A Putnam County utility is serving notice on residents who block access to its fire hydrants, the direct result of an ongoing WSAZ investigation into the challenges firefighters face with hydrants.

The WSAZ investigation -- False Security -- stemmed from two fires with the same story. Firefighters didn’t have enough water May 5 to fight a house fire in Charleston, 15 months after crews encountered the same issue in failed efforts to save a Pizza Hut in Danville.

Early in the investigation, WSAZ visited Teays Valley Fire Chief John Smoot. He showed the station how overgrown weeds and other obstacles can hide and block access.

“This is one of the greatest things, the obstacles that we run into in our district,” Smoot said. “You see the it’s overgrown. So at nighttime, three o’clock in the morning, it’s raining, the chances of seeing that are very slim.”

That hydrant is located in Teays Valley. A few miles away, WSAZ found another hydrant tucked behind shrubbery.

Wednesday -- three months later -- only two stumps remain. The hydrant’s visible on all sides.

It follows the Putnam PSD serving the owner with a notice to keep the hydrant area clear.

“When did you guys start that process?” asked WSAZ NewsChannel 3′s Curtis Johnson.

“We have just currently started this year,” James Evers, general manager of Putnam PSD. “After, you know, all of the news on the hydrants, we thought it would be a good thing to go ahead and get in front of it.”

Evers saying Putnam PSD has served notice on about four homes so far, including another one in Teays Valley. That hydrant is barely visible through the ornamental grass.

Putnam PSD claimed state regulation requires residents to give the utility reasonable access, while a Putnam County ordinance goes further -- requiring a 10-foot area around the hydrant. The ordinance states, “no structures, fences, plantings, motor vehicles, or any other obstruction that could interfere with the operation shall be allowed” within the area.

The Putnam PSD notice gives customers two weeks to clear anything blocking the hydrant. Evers promised his utility will follow up and can ultimately remove the obstruction if the resident refuses to take action.

“There’s no malicious intent from the customers on this,” he said. “It’s just, you know, they plant around it, the beautification of their yard and never really give a thought to, ‘Ooh, I’m covering that up that may, you know, be needed in an emergency situation.’”

Evers added the inspections and notices will continue through the end of the year.