De Pere fire aggravated by house construction and freezing weather

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DE PERE, Wis. (WBAY) — Construction and freezing weather combined to make fighting a house fire in De Pere Wednesday night much more difficult. On Thursday, the five people who lived in the multi-family house on the west side of De Pere are being helped by the American Red Cross.

De Pere Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Jack Mlnarik said four people escaped from the home in the 800 block of Ash Street. A person from the upper unit was injured during the evacuation and taken to hospital for treatment.

Mlnarik says that at first it looks like the fire started on the first floor in the kitchen. An investigation into the cause is underway by a Brown County Fire Investigation Team. The fire chief thinks the house is a total loss.

The age of the house contributed to the difficulty of extinguishing the fire. Mlnarik said the old two-story wood-frame house had been renovated several times and flames spread through walls and ceilings.

“It’s the type of construction, kind of a barn-style construction, so there’s a lot of studs and voids that the fire is spreading through, and it’s trapped and you have to find those areas and voids and that’s is where the process becomes quite extensive downwards. The construction itself was balloon frame, which means the walls follow from the bottom to the top, so when a fire enters this wall, it goes quite quickly to the attic, and that was one of the issues we were facing,” Mlnarik said.

There was extensive fire, smoke and water damage to the upper and lower units.

Emily Willard, who lives across the street, told us she saw flames coming from the top floor of the house. “When I first looked it was just smoke coming out the back and I really couldn’t tell if it was the yard or the house. And now you can tell it’s is really the house, and it’s pouring out the back and it’s pouring out the top window.

Due to fire conditions inside the house, crews had to fight the fire from the outside. A battalion chief from Green Bay said crews were struggling to put out the fire because of the cold. He said crews attacked him with aerial sprays but the water froze on the firefighters’ uniforms, slowing them down. According to First Alert Weather, the temperature at 8:15 p.m. was 8 degrees with a wind chill of -5 due to an 8 MPH southerly wind.

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WATCH: 3 adults and 2 children displaced by De Pere house fire in freezing cold

Mlnarik said crews “train when it’s cold, we train when it’s hot,” but acknowledged the cold takes a toll on firefighters. He said that was the reason they had such a large contingent so they could rotate the crews inside and out and give them a chance to warm up. We saw fire engines from Green Bay, Ashwaubenon and Wrightstown as well as De Pere.

“Normally we wouldn’t have had so many people on a fire this size, but because of the cold, the guys are freezing up there, the bottles are freezing, the radios are freezing, the batteries in the radios are going out, all these the issues that I’ve told you about before that continually happen when it’s so cold that’s why we had more people so we were able to cycle them in and out, warm them up, the next group comes in, warm those people and continuously cycling, make sure we take care of the firefighters,” Mlnarik said.

The teams remained on site for about five hours.

The Red Cross told us its disaster teams responded to 73 fires in Wisconsin and the western Upper Peninsula, affecting 349 people. “These numbers are high even for our typical home fire season.”

“The fires continue to happen and are affecting many more people than we expected,” Wisconsin Red Cross communications director Justin Kern told us.

Kern said 16 of the fires occurred in northeast Wisconsin, affecting nearly 90 people.

The American Red Cross has helped 349 people after the fires in Wisconsin and western UP since the beginning of the month

Firefighters battle a blaze at a three-unit apartment building in De Pere (Emily Willard)

Firefighters from De Pere and other towns fought a house fire on Ash St.(WBAY)

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