Starting a Fire for a Good Cause

DSC_0051 - CopyThe thick dark smoke billowed above the burning wood-frame house provided an ominous backdrop to flames and a positive experience for Shaw Island firefighters. The small house was on the former Hoffman property, now owned by Eben and Sally Frankenberg.

“They contacted me last summer about the possibility of burning down the house,” said Fire Chief Jon Shannon. “For the owners, burning the house down to ash saved them a lot of money and effort in demolishing the house. For the fire department, it was a fantastic opportunity to work with a live structure fire under pre-planned and controlled conditions. We spent about six weeks using the house for various training scenarios prior to the burn. For example, we were able to put a smoke generator in the house and fill it with smoke so firefighters could practice moving around in a zero visibility environment. It also gave us an opportunity to work on rescue scenarios, forced entry, ventilation, etc.”

DSC_0036 - CopyThe fire was started using diesel fuel and a road flare. From the time the fire started to the time the roof collapsed and began cooling down was about 40 minutes. There were four outbuildings including a pump house and woodshed in close proximity to the house. In addition, there was a water tower, two power poles, and a tree that were part of the perimeter protection plan,” Jon said.

“The conditions were perfect. No rain and no wind. Wind was the biggest issue. We decided in advance that if we had winds greater than five mph from the south, the burn would have been cancelled.”

The rising cloud of smoke dwarfed the empty house and the nearby water tower.

“Henry’s dad, Del Hoffman, built the water tower that holds about 1,000 gallons of water,” said Marlyn Hoffman, who now lives in Anacortes. “It would be a wild guess as to when it was built, likely in the 1940s as there was another well dug when they firsts moved there in the 1920s. The very is very deep, about 265 feet, and produced excellent-tasting water. Del and Errett Graham drilled the well.”

Very hot, rapidly generated smoke is dense black in color and firefighters use the presence of such smoke to locate where the fire started. “Typically, the blacker the smoke, the hotter the fire. Also certain materials used in the construction of buildings generate blacker, denser smoke. In this case it was primarily the asphalt shingles on the roof,” Jon said.

DSC_0082 - CopyThe firefighters had access to water from a pond near Blind Bay, owned by Caryn Buck and Andrew Thomas. “They have been very gracious in allowing us to utilize this water supply. Without it we would have a very serious problem. We should all be thankful for their generosity. However … it is never a good idea for a public safety organization to rely solely on the goodwill of a particular landowner to supply a crucial community resource. We need to address the issue of water supply for firefighting in the long-term, and develop a permanent, reliable water supply system that will be perpetual and provide assurance that current and future firefighters will always have a source of water,” John said.

FireEleven firefighters and four EMTs were on the scene, using three Type 1 fire engines (two newly acquired from District 3), two water tenders, and a Type 1 ambulance. There were 11 firefighters (including six recent recruits) and four EMTs: Jon Shannon, Fire Chief and Incident Commander; Jack Rawls, Captain and Operations Officer; Ray Glaze, Captain and Safety Officer; Brud Joslin, Captain; engineers Nick Jones, Mike Mahn, Scott Brooks and Luke Walwick; firefighters Brendan McGarry, Judah Finney and John Bogert. Emergency Services were represented by Helen Riggins, EMS Coordinator, and EMTs Brian Lynch, Chris Hopkins and Allison Lengyel.
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Story contributed by Jon Shannon and Sharon Wootton
Photographs by Sharon Wootton