Shocking Water Lines Blamed for Wisc. House Fire

Firefighters were shocking water lines to thaw them when a fire erupted in a neighbor's home.

Feb. 19--CHIPPEWA FALLS -- Did shocking water lines to thaw frozen pipes cause a fire in a nearby home? Sara Michels of 1318 Therbrook St. in Chippewa Falls thinks so.

Michels approached the City Council on Tuesday and said firefighters were shocking the water lines at her neighbor's home at 10 p.m. Feb. 13. Minutes later, a fire started in Michels' basement.

"My insurance company said we should not be liable," Michels told the council. "Our house is up to code. I just want to get my basement back to where it was before."

Michels said a pipe in the basement was glowing red, and the fire caused by it destroyed the electrical box, melting the breakers together.

The blaze also filled her daughter's bedroom with smoke, which still has not dissipated. The girl is sleeping on a couch in another room.

Fire Chief Tom Larson told the council it is possible for shocking water lines to cause a fire because electricity is looking for the easiest grounding source.

"This does happen around the country," Larson said. "It is a possible cause of a fire."

The council has not received any letters yet from its insurance carrier.

City finance manager Lynne Bauer said the investigation could take two to four weeks.

"We will refer it to the insurance companies tonight," Mayor Greg Hoffman told Michels.

Council members apologized to Michels and said they would work to resolve the case.

"We're sorry you are having to go through this. It's unfortunate," Councilwoman Amy Mason said. "But I don't know what the alternative is."

City engineer Rick Rubenzer said crews have been out on a steady basis thawing lines, as frost is reaching several feet underground. He said the city is approaching 200 frozen services this winter, and it could reach 240 cases.

Half-marathon permit

In other business, the City Council approved a street use permit for a new half-marathon race that would be held May 24. "The Oz Run" would begin and end near the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds, with the course going through Irvine Park, then looping the eastern border of the city.

Bill Sparkes of Clear Channel Communications, which owns several area stations in the area, filed the street use permit. The race would come just three weeks after the Eau Claire Marathon.

Vetter can be reached at 715-723-0303 or at

Copyright 2014 - The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.