Water company offering reward for fire hydrant vandals
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia American Water is offering a $1,000 reward to anyone who can help police catch whoever tampered with fire hydrants in Putnam County early Sunday.
The company said vandals opened 11 hydrants along W.Va. 34 between Hurricane and Hamlin sometime before 3 a.m. Sunday. Water levels in a nearby storage tank dropped, and service for about 100 customers was disrupted.
About 800,000 gallons spilled onto nearby property and roads before crews could repair and close the hydrants. That's roughly equal to the amount of water 7,200 households would use in one day.
The company estimated total damages and lost water costs totaled nearly $11,000.
While water service was restored to the area by 6 a.m., officials said the outage and fire hydrant tampering posed a potential threat to public safety.
"If there had been a house fire or brush fire in this area during the early morning hours, the responding fire department would have arrived to inadequate water pressure and been unable to effectively fight the fire - putting lives and property at stake," West Virginia American Water President Jeff McIntyre said in a statement.
Company spokeswoman Laura Jordan said this was the second time vandals have tampered with fire hydrants in this area. She said the first incident occurred last Halloween night.
That incident involved fewer hydrants, however. With more hydrants involved this time, Jordan said the company wanted to help law enforcement send a message that it will not tolerate hydrant tampering.
"This certainly is not a prank," she said. "It's a very serious crime, there's a potential for a fire hazard, and obviously it's an inconvenience to our customers.
"Since this is the second time this happened in that area, and it involved a few more hydrants this time, we thought we'd take a step forward and offer the reward and bring awareness of the situation," Jordan said.
Last year the state Legislature passed a law making it a felony to cause a utility service disruption.
While the law was primarily designed to combat copper theft, it also applies to water service.
According to state code, anyone charged with this crime could face up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Although the immediate outages were fixed Sunday morning, Jordan said the situation created the potential for more problems in the future.
Opening up fire hydrants has a significant effect on the water pressure and flow running through pipes. That takes its toll on the system's water lines, some of which are up to 50 years old.
"Any time there's a huge change in the amount of pressure going through the system, it can definitely cause some damage to the pipes underground," Jordan said.
She said even when trained firefighters open hydrants properly, they run the risk of damaging underground pipes.
"There's a possibility there could be more water main breaks in that area due to this tampering," she said.
Jordan said anyone with information that could lead to the arrest or conviction of those involved should call the Putnam County Sheriff's Department at 304-586-0256.
Jordan also said anyone who spots a person tampering with a hydrant should call the company's customer service center at 800-685-8660.
"We hope that the announcement will let people know that tampering with a fire hydrant is not a minor incident, because it's truly not," she said.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at email@example.com or 304-348-4836.