The coldest temperatures to hit Johnson County in two years had firefighters responding to three fires caused by residents trying to keep warm.
The fires — one in Franklin, a second west of Franklin and a third near Bargersville, along with two in Indianapolis — have officials warning residents to make sure fireplaces work properly and to keep flammable items away from space heaters.
One of the local fires was caused when gasoline fumes were ignited by a space heater in a garage. The other two were caused by flames that spread from a home fireplace.
The fires caused three families to flee their homes during the coldest weather in two years. The temperature hit a low of 4 degrees Tuesday morning, with wind chills as low as 10 degrees below zero — the coldest the area has had since Feb. 10, 2011, when the low was 1 degree below zero.
Fires in winter aren’t uncommon because space heaters and fireplaces can be fire hazards if used improperly, Franklin Fire Department spokesman Chuck Ridpath said. Heaters can overload extension cords, and hot embers can fly out of fireplaces, and both are capable of starting nearby items on fire, he said.
Two of the fires were started when flames from a fireplace got into other parts of the home.
A fire in the fireplace at 3943 Tamara Way in Knollwood Farms spread into the attic, Ridpath said.
The homeowner and family were home when the fire started about 6:23 p.m. Monday and were able to get out safely, he said. Fire officials did not yet have an estimate of damage.
A faulty tray in the fireplace at a home at 739 S. County Road 100W in western Franklin Township dropped coals and embers under the floor, igniting a crawlspace, Bargersville Fire Chief Jason Ramey said.
Two adults and a child were awakened by smoke and got out of the house, and Bargersville firefighters were called at 2:17 a.m. Tuesday. The flames were contained near the fireplace, and damage was confined to that area, Ramey said.
A third fire started about 5:50 a.m. when a space heater ignited gasoline fumes in a home’s garage at 5481 W. Whiteland Road.
A homeowner was working on his vehicle in the garage and had turned on a space heater to keep warm, Ramey said.
The man and his wife were able to get out of the home, and Bargersville firefighters rescued a dog and cat found inside.
A second cat was unaccounted for, but Ramey said he thinks it escaped the house on its own.
No firefighters and no residents were injured in the three fires. But cold weather did make fighting the fires a challenge, fire officials said.
Battling a fire gets more difficult as temperatures drop. Firefighters get wet, icy and cold, gear starts to freeze, and the site becomes a slippery mess as water being used to battle the flames turns to ice.
Franklin and Bargersville firefighters both had to call for help from the street or highway departments when the water they used to put out a blaze turned the nearby road into a sheet of ice, including on Whiteland Road near County Road 144.
“Some of the challenges can be anything from fire hydrants freezing to obviously just the slickness created around the truck. As the water runs out of the house, it freezes really quick, that’s the biggest hazard,” Ridpath said.
Ramey was concerned about his staff getting too cold from wearing frozen gear while fighting two fires early Tuesday.
Firefighters struggled cleaning up because hoses were frozen, and connectors and doors on the truck also were iced, he said.
“Our crews go in and are spraying water inside a heated environment, then that thin coating of water immediately freezes on them. It almost flash freezes with that water on it,” Ramey said.