Frozen fire hydrants now ready for use 

Cause of failure on Feb. 8 'undetermined': Mayor

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Fire hydrants in the Emerald Estates neighbourhood are now all operational after two were found to be frozen during a house fire Feb. 8.

"Along the way, all the other hydrants in Emerald Estates were checked and they're all in good working order so everyone in Emerald can be reassured that all of the hydrants are working," said Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden on Monday.

The frozen hydrants were taken apart, repaired and put back together, according to Wilhelm-Morden, adding that it still isn't clear why they froze.

The hydrants are designed to keep the water in the system well underground below the frost level where the temperature is consistently above freezing. Wilhelm-Morden said hydrants have a drain about 1.2 metres below ground and the drains are supposed to prevent standing water accumulating. The hydrants' drains weren't working.

"I believe that the investigation is concluded at this point," Wilhelm-Morden said. "There is some further work being done on the annual hydrant maintenance program with a focus being given to these drain holes."

In a background briefing, an RMOW staff member said the two hydrants would be dug up in the spring to determine why the drains aren't working. The hydrants are also checked regularly to ensure they don't freeze again. The situation was described as a "very rare" anomaly.

Fraser Valley Hydrant Services inspects and maintains the hydrants in Whistler. Company president Harold Loland said it takes two of his employees six months, between May and October, to pull apart and inspect the nearly 500 hydrants around Whistler. They pull apart up to nine a day.

"I feel very comfortable in the work we do," said Loland.

Though the investigation was inconclusive Loland added: "There was only about a metre of frozen water in the hydrant, so to me that means more than likely it was watertable issues."

He added that if his inspectors detect water table issues they pass on the information to the municipal government.

"If the city is aware there are water table issues then their own people would have to do additional work in that particular area or areas that might have underground water flowing issues," Loland said.

The RMOW said it will tender the 2014 hydrant inspection work soon, as the contract with Fraser Valley Hydrant Services had ended.

Before the private firm was contracted municipal workers did the hydrant inspection work. According to the RMOW "performance was not sufficient given the various demands on staff time" when the work was done in-house.

A request for financial information on whether the move to contracting out saved the RMOW money could not be answered by Pique's press deadline.

The fate of the house destroyed in the fire, a suspected marijuana grow op, was unconnected to the hydrants. Fire Chief Sheila Kirkwood said when fire crews arrived it was determined the home couldn't be saved. The decision to take defensive action to save neighbouring homes was made before it was discovered the hydrants were frozen.

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