Fighting fires in sub-zero temperatures in Detroit; a marriage of two extremes

A combination of ash and ice, twisted metal and debris was all that remained from a house fire in Detroit that crews battled Wednesday morning.

It's a life-changing event for the family, now stuck without a home in the middle of winter. 

It's also a dangerous occasion for firefighters, who are caught in a battle of two extremes. That contrast was on display this week as fires spurred crews into action, while freezing temperatures made putting out any blaze harder.

For the home on Whithorn Street in Detroit, the ice built up almost as soon as water left the hose.

"In this weather, it freezes almost automatically, just as soon as it touches you," Detroit Fire Department Senior Chief David Nelson said. "Sometimes to even get your clothes off you have to get warm just to unlatch the hooks on your gear."

And that can be restricting - especially since the flames don't quit just because it's cold. 

Cold weather can sometimes make fighting fires harder. The ice build-up can cause roofs to collapse, ice makes transportation tricky for emergency vehicles, and hydrants can become inaccessible.

"When you’re wet in this cold weather, it’s something different you can’t even describe," said Nelson.

Nelson said the hydrants are checked on a continual basis during the cold season. Usually, they work fine. But now and again, he says they freeze up and the fire department has to move on to the next one.