Why are there fires during a hurricane?

During this Ike Hurricane, there have been several reports of buildings catching on fire.

In fact, a famous restraunt, Brennan’s, burned to the ground at the height of the storm.

Considering there was tons of rain falling down, why did this building, and many others, catch on fire?

Fire = heat + fuel + oxygen

High wind does a good job at acquainting the first two and spreading the result around.

Rain doesn’t do a good job of extinguishing or controlling structure fires.

Severed gas line and a spark?

Also, Ike did not have much rain. The storm had been sucking in a lot of dry air as it came through the GOM. It was very strange.

I’ve seen this question asked all over the 'net today. Answers range from folks using candles to severed gas mains as Duckster mentioned to short circuited power lines.

From footage I’ve seen of power lines snapping and arcing in high winds, I’d say that’s the likely source of ignition, with the fire then fuelled by gas leaks.

Works for me. And in the case of house fires, I wonder if part of the issue is there’s nobody home to put out any tiny fire which erupts, leading to catastrophe.

Take a look at this photo from the Grand Forks Flood of 1997.

Fire above the waterline.

Modern lifestyle + chaos’n’wrecking = FIRE!!
whether the chaos’n’wrecking is supplied by a hurricane, earthquake, landslide or giant rampaging gorilla affects the size and frequency of the resulting fire, but the principle still holds. Lots of flammable stuff and various energy sources all piled up in a heap and stirred about as though with a giant stick tends toward burnination.

So, why isn’t it standard procedure for utilities to shut down the distribution network shortly before a hurricane strikes?

Because then you also shut off power to fire alarm systems (which have to switch to backup battery power), as well as sump pumps and stormwater dewatering pumps (which are needed to mitigate the effects of flooding), as well as water utility pumps which maintain water pressure (which you need to fight fires), along with wastewater pumps (which are needed to keep sewage from backing up into the streets and into people’s homes), etc., etc. You also cut off all lighting in the city, which makes it more difficult for emergency personnel to maneuver and fight fires. As my family in Houston can attest, it gets very dark when all the lights go out.

Many of the municipal pumps I’ve mentioned have backup systems (such as diesel generators), but they only have enough fuel for a finite period of time.

That would be unfeasible for Gas. Purging the entire system would take a very long time and would require an incredible amount of air pressure. The utility would also have to physically turn off, turn on and relit the pilots for every single customer. For an outage of a hundred customers this is a sizable task. On a regional scale it would be astronomical.