County Seat Newspaper
of Clare County

Fire Department Trains by Burning Vacant Home

Firefighters from multiple agencies watch and learn as fire progresses from first spark to final smoldering cinders


HARRISON – When Fire Chief Chris Damvelt learned that Jake and Shellie Tessner wanted to make their vacant, former home available for a controlled burn-down, he wholeheartedly welcomed the opportunity. Damvelt said that by the time his crew is called out and arrives at a fire, it is invariably well underway. The chance to see how a fire develops from its very inception is a rare training moment which can prove invaluable to firefighters, and thus some 20 firefighters from Harrison, Beaverton and Clare were onsite the morning of Nov. 6 to make the most of it.

“We get to learn a lot,” Damvelt said. “Because very seldom do you get to see a fire start from beginning to end. Generally, when we roll up, we’re wanting to put the fire out, so we’re not watching it.”

Firefighters in full gear got things going quickly by igniting starter fuel comprised of a stack of wood pallets and hay in the living room.

“Generally, you wouldn’t have anything that would be that much,” Damvelt said. “But we wanted to get it ripping.”

Damvelt also pointed out a plywood-covered roof cutout with a cord on it at the far east end of the house, which could be shifted to alter drafting during the fire – an experiment to see if the fire could be drawn in that direction.

After the firefighters were briefed by Assistant Fire Chief John Loy, the exercise got underway. It didn’t take long before smoke found its way through the length of the house (making the roof experiment moot) and smoke and flames began to curl out under the roof soffits. The fire’s intensity rose quickly, and the firefighters were pushed out in only two minutes.

The loud crash of single pane windows shattering from the intense heat followed shortly, and that changed the dynamics of the fire by creating an alternate source of combustion air.

The safety recommendation is that bedroom doors be closed to delay fire/smoke infiltration and provide the inhabitant a bit more time to leave the building. To that end, the bedroom doors on the “starter stack” end of the house were closed, and monitoring of the fire’s smoke path and spread bore out the validity of that time delay.

Shellie Tessner explained that the house was being burned so that the couple’s middle son could rebuild another house on the property next summer. She said the house held a lot of memories but that memories live on in the mind, and it was time for a fresh start.


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