TWIN FALLS — Roaring flames engulfed the little white house, snarling out of the windows and shooting up through the crumbling roof, but nearby firefighters weren’t in a hurry to put out the fire.
In fact, they were the ones who had started it.
A controlled burn training exercise for the Twin Falls Fire Department lasted all day Wednesday, starting at nine in the morning and going into the evening. It’s not unheard of for TFFD to set a house on fire to give new recruits some hands-on practice — but firefighters weren’t the only ones who benefited from the blaze on Carney Street this time around.
The house and property had been gifted to Habitat for Humanity of the Magic Valley in the will of a recently deceased donor, executive director Linda Fleming said. (The donor is remaining anonymous for now.)
Fleming and her colleagues quickly realized the house itself was past the point of remodeling. But the land was the perfect site for a new home.
Rather than knocking the house down, they approached the fire department with an idea: What if they worked together and used the house for a controlled burn exercise?
“They needed some training time, and we needed the house out of the way for a new home to be built,” Fleming said. “It was a win-win.”
As it turned out, the house was just right for the fire department’s training needs.
“The house was in good-enough shape where we could go in there and actually deploy some of our tactics in a safe environment,” battalion chief Mitchell Brooks said. “We were able to create realistic fire conditions.”
And so, Wednesday morning, new recruits with the department gathered inside the home on Carney Street to watch the fire start and spread, taking note of the blaze’s behavior and smoke patterns.
Soon enough, black smoke began to billow out of the house, growing thicker by the minute. Then flames could be seen from the street. By early afternoon, the house was glowing orange.
As some firefighters sprayed hoses at the flames, others aimed their water streams at the house next door to prevent smoke and heat damage, while senior firefighters watched and offered guidance. In a densely populated neighborhood with nearby homes and an abundance of trees, even a controlled blaze can have unintended consequences.
“There’s a lot of risk to have one of these fires,” Brooks said. “With us lighting the match on this house, it comes with a little bit more responsibility.”
The fire itself was modeled after a typical residential structure fire, which can have numerous causes, Brooks said.
While the TFFD has held controlled burn exercises before, they aren’t a frequent occurrence. The last one took place about two years ago, city spokesman Josh Palmer said.
These trainings have a lengthy and complex permitting process, but are ultimately valuable for the department, Brooks said.
“It’s nice to have something like this before the real thing happens for the new recruits,” Brooks said. “This is the time we want to learn, not on the real deal.”
At 5 p.m., firefighters were still putting the blaze out of the charred and crumbled house.
If all goes according to plan, a new home will stand in its place by next spring. Habitat for Humanity has a three-bedroom “house-in-a-box” frame ready to go, and hopes to complete a “blitz build” in a week’s time, Fleming said.
The organization already has a family to live in it, too: a mother, father, and three children will move in when the new house is completed. The donor requested that the property be used to house a family with at least one child, Fleming said. He also donated additional funding — the exact amount of which isn’t known yet — to be put toward building other homes.
“This gentleman in leaving this world is going to affect many, many lives,” Fleming said. “We couldn’t be more blessed.”