On Saturday, Cammy Downing and her family stood together watching the home her grandfather built in the 1930’s crumble and burn to the ground.
The Wilmington Fire Department and other first responders put out the fire, but they were also the ones who set the home ablaze in the first place. That's because the family donated the home at 4822 Carolina Beach Road for a live training burn to practice controlling a house fire.
“My dad was a volunteer firefighter, so my big brother came up with the great idea of letting somebody use it as a training burn,” said Downing. “My granddaddy built the house in the late 30’s. My dad grew up in it. I grew up in it. Lived here almost half my life, so yeah, a lot of memories.”
Downing said her family initially rented the house after her parents passed away, but eventually it became too difficult to see renters not care for the home as much as her family did.
“It’s been vacant for quite a while, and we really hated it just falling apart,” said Downing. “It had gotten to the point where the electrical and so many things about it weren’t safe.”
The family contacted the Wilmington Fire Department in late 2017 to pitch the donation of their home for a controlled training burn, and the fire department was grateful for the opportunity.
“It’s very rare, and when this opportunity does happen, it helps us out tremendously,” said Captain Tim Smith, a training officer with the Wilmington Fire Department. “We have probably five or six brand new firefighters that we put on a few months ago, and to this day, some of them still have not been on an actual structure fire. But they’re saying that this training right here is the best training they’ve had so far.”
More than 45 first responders, including fire crews, set the house on fire room by room using pallets, pine straw, and diesel fuel, allows the flames to build before putting them out.
“Everything is just like us going in and putting the fire out in a typical house fire,” said Smith. “When the instructor says put it out, they go in there and put it out. Once it’s out, we back up, and set another room on fire.”
Skills taught included hose-line operations, forcible entry, ventilations, and extinguishing the fire.
“It’s hugely wonderful actually to see it being used in a positive way after seeing it just fall apart for so long,” said Downing. “It’s exciting actually, that’s the coolest thing in the world to see these young guys get a chance to do this, to know that it’s being a positive thing, and not just sitting here not being used.”
The family plans to sell the property after the home's remains are cleared away. "We want to let it be reborn as something new," said Downing.
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