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Fire department reports seven fires related to forced power outages

Between Sunday, Feb. 14, and Friday, Feb. 19, the Laredo Fire Department received seven calls relating to the power outages.
Published: Feb. 22, 2021 at 10:06 PM CST
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LAREDO, Tex. (KGNS) - When the power went out last week for one Laredo family, they didn’t think they would come back to ashes, debris, and the overwhelming smell of smoke.

That’s all that’s left at their home on east frost street home after it went up in flames during the outages.

Six people including a three-month-old baby lived there just one week ago, but when their power went out, they went to stay with family.

A few days later, they got the call no one wants to get: your house is on fire.

“When the light came back, it made a spark, something in the wires, and something started burning,” said Guadalupe Martinez, one of the fire victims.

The house fire stemmed from a short circuit from a refrigerator on the back porch. Prior to the power coming back on, the fridge was frozen.

The most damage was in the kitchen, which is connected to the back porch.

Appliances, walls, and personal belongings were destroyed.

No one was injured, but now the family is moving what’s left to storage and living in an apartment.

“Everybody is crowded,” Martinez said. “Not everybody has their own room. Everybody feels like it’s crowded and uncomfortable.”

This fire is just one of seven that occurred last week relating to the forced power outages, ordered by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

ERCOT instructed local power companies to shut off millions of Texans’ power after the demand for electricity didn’t meet the supply.

In previous interviews, CEO Bill Magness defended the decision, saying if they didn’t do this, Texas could have experienced a blackout that could have lasted for months.

Ultimately, Governor Greg Abbott announced an investigation into ERCOT.

Although a similar instance occurred in 2011, ERCOT wasn’t prepared, leaving 27,000 people in Laredo without power for multiple days.

Between Sunday, Feb. 14, and Friday, Feb. 19, the Laredo Fire Department received seven calls relating to the power outages.

“The recent freeze did bring about some situations that we don’t usually see,” said Ricardo Oliva Jr., public information officer for the Laredo Fire Department. “We had a lot of overloading of the electrical outlets, which is a very big danger because it can cause a lot of short circuits within the house that can in turn cause a fire within the house.”

The six other fires reported last week relating to the power outages -- or simply from people trying to stay warm -- included two short circuits involving a space heater and a water heater, a barbecue pit used inside a residence, a clay chimney overheating and two broken pipes.

The fire department says no fatalities were reported as a result of the winter freeze or house fires.

If you need help with fire prevention tips, you can reach the Fire Prevention Division at 956-718-6070.

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