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How ponds can save a home: Dry hydrants and rural fire protection

URBANA, Ill, – Duane Friend grew up on a farm and knows the devastation rural fires can have on structures. Lack of nearby water supplies increased the danger of total structure losses. House or barn fires often require 10,000 to 25,000 gallons of water for full suppression and often require several trips from pumper trucks.

"Having an accessible source of water in rural areas may be as close as a pond," Friend says.

Friend, a University of Illinois Extension energy and environment educator in western Illinois, says a pond can be turned into a water source through the use of a dry hydrant. Non-pressurized pipes are installed next to a body of water to supply the water needed for fire suppression. 

"Having this type of water source can be a benefit to everyone living in the area and may help lower insurance premiums."

Before installing a dry hydrant, calculate how much water is available for pumping. To make this calculation for a pond, determine the surface square footage and multiply this amount by the average depth. To determine square footage for a rectangular pond, take the length times the width. For circular ponds, multiply 3.14 by the radius.

To figure an average depth, it may be necessary to take several depth readings across the pond.

"When the square footage and average depth are multiplied, this gives you the amount of water in cubic feet," Friend says. "Then, multiply that number by 7.5 to determine the gallons of water available. The amount of water available for pumping will be a little less than this amount since not all of the water can be pumped out."

In the winter, ice will decrease the amount of available water, as well.  

Friend specifies these installation considerations:

  • The hydrant should be well marked and located near an all-weather road to allow pumper trucks to hook up to it.
  • The hose connection must be 2 feet above the ground.
  • The intake needs to be 2 feet above the bottom of the pond and 2 feet below the anticipated low water level.
  • There is a limit to the height water can be pumped; the total vertical height of pipe from intake to outlet cannot exceed 18 feet, with shorter heights preferred.
  • Long, horizontal lengths must also be considered. For example, a 500 gallon per minute pump will only lift water 13 feet if the horizontal length of pipe is 200 feet.

Most dry hydrants are made from 6-inch or larger schedule 40 PVC pipe, Friend says. Additional components include a hose connection compatible with local fire trucks, two 90-degree or 45-degree elbows, and a strainer cap. Costs for installation can vary from about $700 to $1,500, depending on your location and amount of materials needed, Friend says.

Once installed, dry hydrants must be properly maintained. Clear brush and trees for easy access. In addition, silt or plants should be kept from clogging the intake screen. "Regular inspections and back-flushing can be used as a training opportunity for new fire protection personnel," Friend suggests. For technical assistance on site suitability, survey, design and installation, contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service or local Soil and Water Conservation District office.

SOURCE: Duane Friend, Energy and Environment Educator, University of Illinois Extension
WRITER: Judy Mae Bingman, Communications and Marketing Manager, University of Illinois Extension

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