By Tim Eberly
Traditionally, the busiest day of the year for the Havre Fire Department is the Fourth of July, when sparks from fireworks have the potential to ignite blazes across town. But on Wednesday afternoon, firefighters responded to three fires within a 30-minute time frame, comparable to any Independance Day in recent memory, said Fire Chief David Sheppard.
"We got the calls pretty much simultaneously," Sheppard said. "It's hectic for the dispatchers because they're trying to keep track of what all our units are doing at the same time as the police department's (units)."
Two of the fires were structural, and both were caused by burning candles, said Sheppard. The other was a burning shrub on the First Street side of the IGA, which likely started from a burning cigarette. The first call for the shrub fire was fielded at 2:10 p.m., and the house fires followed at 2:13 and 2:39.
"It was busy," said dispatcher Diane Lamphier. "There was a lot of radio traffic. Fortunately, it came at a shift change, so there was another dispatcher here. The other dispatcher (Karley McKay) worked the fire calls and I worked the police calls."
So busy, in fact, that Sheppard had to call in six on-call firefighters to assist the four who were on duty. Of the five fire trucks in the station, three were used to snuff the blazes. The burning bush was extinguished with ease, and the two structural fires were contained to their rooms of origin.
"They knocked them down right away," Sheppard said. "They did a really good job."
While firefighters doused the fire on the small juniper bush at the IGA, a separate group was dispatched to the fire at a two-story dwelling in the 900 block of Third Avenue. Though there was a significant amount of smoke damage, no one was injured, said Sheppard. Twenty-six minutes later, the department sent two fire engines to Dave Kaasa's mobile home in the 3100 block of U.S. Highway 2. Kaasa had put out the fire in his bedroom before firefighters arrived, but not before the fire caused $5,000 worth of damage in his daughters' bedroom.
"I stuck the garden hose in through the window," Kaasa said. "We've got some charred walls. Their beds are gone."
Lamphier said it was the first time dispatchers used their new dispatch center. They used both the old and new centers in unison.
"It was a good opportunity to get out some of the glitches," Lamphier said.