Smith County House Fire Problems Stem From Texas House Bill

East Texas firefighters say they had a difficult time fighting a house fire that broke out Tuesday, because the nearest hydrant was sealed, and painted black. Two people and their pets were home when the blaze broke out along FM 2767. That's just west of CR 211 in Smith County.

Today, KLTV 7 News' Courtney Lane surveys the damage and talks to Smith County firefighters about the problems they face with the hydrants.

Time was ticking Tuesday afternoon as hot smoke billowed out of a burning attic. Six different departments from Smith County lined up trying to get more water, but there was a hold-up at the hydrant.

"It looked like it had been tightened with an impact wrench to prevent firefighters from being able to use it," says assistant Smith County fire mashal Marilynn Wilson. "They broke 2 hydrant tools trying to open it."

Once open, fire crews faced another battle. Flames began racing up the home after igniting in a breaker box.

The owner, Patricia Sepmoree, was watching helplessly from the ground. "They started watering it down first, knocked their picks in there and then they had to go with the chainsaw up at the very top...You think this happens to everybody else and not you, but it can."

Fortunately, her renters and their dogs got out safely and crews saved the house. There's just a lot to clean up from all the water and smoke damage. Meanwhile, fire departments continue to fight Southern Utilities, which painted Smith County hydrants black to comply with a state house bill.

"House bill 1717 says that all hydrants that can't be assured to flow 250 gallons per minutes will be painted black," says Wilson.

But, firefighters say that instead of testing the hydrants, the utility company just painted them all black to protect against liablilty. They also add that this will be an ongoing battle.

Courtney Lane /