There Goes the Neighborhood

water plume from damaged fire hydrant on Meadow Wood Lane

I rang in the New Year with a pulverizing migraine/sinus headache, so on the evening of December 31, 2017, I was in bed with a hot pack rather than out celebrating. By the evening of January 1, 2018, I was feeling better, and was sitting in bed reading when the shouting started.

I was trying to ignore the noise, but my head was still feeling pretty delicate and it bothered me more than it would have otherwise, especially when it started to get shrill. I heard a man saying “Please let me get you home safely” and a woman yelling “Don’t touch my car!” At this point I peeked under the blinds and saw four people outside, two of them near a car parked in front of our house, and deduced that the participants in this argument were the neighbors from the corner house across the street and people who had been visiting them.

I’m not sure exactly what happened next, because I attempted to go back to reading, but I heard engines start and a substantial “BANG,” followed by the sound of rushing water. When I looked outside this time, I saw water everywhere.

“I think they must have knocked over the fire hydrant,” I said to my husband. “Do you think I should call 9-1-1?”

The 9-1-1 operator said “We’re on the way,” and it wasn’t long before a police car showed up. By that time, my husband and I had turned out the lights, pulled up the blinds, and gotten a good look at the enormous plume of water jetting into the air. It looked about twice as tall as the two-story house next to it.

“I’ve seen this in movies,” my husband said, “But I always thought they were exaggerating.”

A fire truck arrived a bit later, but it was probably 45 minutes, and an untold number of gallons of water, before someone from public works arrived with a long T-handled pole, flipped up the access panel on our side of the street, inserted the pole, and twisted until the water finally stopped. It took at least 15 minutes more for him to sweep the loose water into the drains and shovel up the gravel that had been scattered from the neighbors’ yard out of the street and onto the sidewalk.

When I got up the following morning, I found a truck carrying away the fire hydrant. The day after that, a team of three men spent at least 6 hours digging themselves two feet deep to replace the valve and the hydrant. They explained to me that the new hydrants include an emergency shut-off valve, so that if the hydrant itself is knocked over, there’s no such geyser as we had witnessed. This seems like a good idea to me.

My husband and I were curious about the penalties attached to hydranticide, because this is an expensive kind of accident. In 2015, the Contra Costa Water District told that the replacement cost for a fire hydrant was $1000. A 2014 article on the Freeway Insurance website states that the fine for damaging a hydrant is $1000, but some cities will also charge you for the lost water–as they should.

And while it’s difficult to find any useful information about the actual cost of hydrant replacement, the City of Azusa lists hydrant installation fees that start at $9,500, in addition to the $1,500 “Traffic Incident Hit Hydrant Impact Fee.” I suspect that the actual cost of replacing a fire hydrant falls somewhere between those two.

The fine and other charges for damaging a fire hydrant are normally covered by a driver’s property damage liability coverage. California requires a minimum of $5,000 worth of said coverage, so if you’re insured, you might not have to pay anything out of pocket. I don’t want to see your insurance rates after that, though, and if it turns out you were intoxicated at the time of the accident, your insurer may not renew your policy, and won’t pay for damage to your car. (Presumably there has to be recorded evidence that you were drinking at the time the accident occurred, and if the Oakley police conducted any breath tests on January 1st, they did it out of our sight.)

Things at the neighbors’ house have been fairly quiet since the incident. I hope they stay that way.

WordPress fangirl, ghostwriter, linguistic alchemist, podcast consultant, and accidental vapor advocate. Married with 2 cats.

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