Finned friends fall victim as tank fire douses itself

Jan. 11, 2011

A fire really can happen in a fish tank.

This is what veteran firefighters, and a Hood River family, learned on Thursday.

Serious damage was averted when fish tank water apparently spilled onto a fire that started in the tank motor inside Pete and Lindy Talmage's home on Rocky Ridge Court, west of Hood River.

It was also a case of the second self-quelling local fire in less than a week (see sidebar, page A9).

"In 30-plus years, this one I have never seen before," said Tom Sieverkropp, incident commander.

The tank was left a charred hulk in the corner of the foyer, but fire damage to the house was minimal.

However, "It's pretty extensive as far as soot all over the house," Sieverkropp said, estimating the damage at $5,000. The walls, furnishings and carpets throughout the house, including bedrooms upstairs, are covered, according to Sieverkropp.

Lindy Talmage was home just after noon with her son, Chase, 4, when dark smoke filled the house. It turned out to be burning plastic from the fish tank cover.

She first tried 9-1-1 but said the phone would not ring the number, so she speed-dialed a friend, who called emergency dispatch. West Side Fire Department and Hood River Fire Department were there in minutes. Odell Fire mobilized but Sieverkropp turned them back when he learned the fire itself was out.

The fire charred the wall and cathedral ceiling of the Talmage entryway, where the fish tank is located, but the Talmages acknowledged they were fortunate the damage was not worse.

The fire evidently superheated the tank glass, which broke, releasing the water onto the fire, according to Sieverkropp.

Pete said he rushed home to help and found the inside filled with sooty smoke.

"It was just thick inside. I wasn't sure at the time if it was from the fire, or the charcoal filter in the tank, or both," he said.

Firefighters put up high-powered fans to draw smoke out, but Lindy said they'll have to deal with heavy damage.

He said the fire started when "either the motor shorted or a light on top caught fire. It looks like there was something in the wiring. The fire ran up the wires in back of the tank and up the wall. I'd never seen that before."

No one was injured - other than the fish.

"They weren't expensive," Lindy said.

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