Crews conduct fire training burns before curious audience

Fire crews conduct a final burn-down of 317 Pine Ave. on April 9, 2024.

Fire crews conduct a final burn-down of 317 Pine Ave. on April 9, 2024.
Photo by Michael Whitney.

SNOHOMISH — “It’s not every day you get to see this kind of stuff,” Randy Clark of Snohomish said while 317 Pine Ave. was cooling before sustaining more training burns on Tuesday, April 9.

A few dozen area residents came to watch firefighters train most of the day on the tall, 1902 house, culminating with burning it fully to the ground. The following day, 325 Pine Ave. went down in a blaze of glory. The remainder will be eventually bulldozed.

Firefighters offered masks to observers and little helmets to kids. One tyke came wearing a junior firefighter’s costume. 

Snohomish Fire District 4, South County Fire and Snohomish Regional Fire and Rescue have been using the 300 block of Pine that formerly had Steuber’s Distributing Co. and old homes for a variety of training exercises.

The day’s training taught offensive firefighting techniques such as venting (cutting holes), and to directionally ‘push’ the heat within the house, said Fire District 4 Battalion Chief Craig Heike.

Firefighters brought hoses into the building and sometimes water sprayed out from the building as the training fires were being extinguished.

Fire agencies emphasize opportunities like these don’t come often. The ability to train on buildings constructed before modern fire safety standards is even rarer. 

Newer homes are built like layer cakes with firebreaks, but older homes aren’t. 

Older homes constructed with what’s known as “balloon construction” are hard to fight fires in, and historic Snohomish has a lot of these, said Brian Mills, a retired career firefighter now on Snohomish Fire’s elected board.

The fire district and city plan to redevelop the block into a future fire station and city campus.

Nearby neighbor Joan Jager said she thinks that’s a positive step for the neighborhood.

For the final burn, firefighters punched holes in the back of the house to aerate it.

“You want us to remodel your place?” a firefighter joked to the crowd of about now 30 people along the sidewalk.

When told the final burn would start in 15 minutes, the audience cheered.

Firefighters set up bales of hay and pallets in designated burn rooms, and used a torch to set it alight.

The building crackled as flames filled inside. Two firefighters took a ‘selfie’ in front of the burn.

The crowd grew as the flames did as the day neared 5 o’clock.

By breaking up the back, the home burned from back to front. Eventually, the front facade fell into itself — which was assumed to be the plan — and crumpled.

The brick chimney stayed standing.

That must be a strong chimney, Jennifer Whitney and her neighbor Victor agreed. They’d come from the next block over on Lincoln.

A vast majority of Snohomish Fire’s 35 firefighters were able to train that day, Snohomish Fire Chief Don Waller said, as did members of Snohomish Regional and of South County Fire.

The original plan was to burn four residential houses. Waller said they reduced the plan because the others didn’t have the structural integrity to safely burn for training.

Kids share observations while watching from across the street. (Michael Whitney photo)