Controlled burns provide valuable training for SFD

Two Starkville firefighters battle a controlled burn on Vine Street Wednesday morning (Photo by Ryan Phillips, SDN)

SDN Editor

Those driving on Highway 12 and through downtown Starkville on Wednesday morning likely saw a heavy plume of black smoke, but the source was something surprisingly valuable.

In the 500 block of Vine Street, the Starkville Fire Department conducted a controlled burn of an abandoned house and used the blaze as a training tool to give firefighters firsthand experience in battling a structure fire.

“It’s extremely good training,” said Starkville Fire Marshal Mark McCurdy, as the flames began to die down. “Just the experience of being here and seeing it.”

From the time a small fire was started on the south side of the dilapidated one-story house, all it took was roughly 20 minutes for the home to be reduced to a pile of ash and coals.

“We don’t use fuel (to start the fire), we won’t use gasoline, and it’s all natural products,” McCurdy said. “So a lot of times, they will just use materials or stuff that’s already in the house so if there’s some wood or furniture or paper, something like that.”

McCurdy said many times, property owners will reach out to the fire department and ask for them to burn blighted or condemned properties.

In other cases, like the house on Vine Street, the city will recommend the property be razed, but turn it over to the fire department to use for training purposes.

“It’s a two-fold, win-win,” McCurdy said. “The city helps clean up but we also get some extremely valuable training out of it for the younger guys.”

For the fire on Wednesday, one concern came in the form of dense overgrowth around the house, with large trees arching over the tall flames as they poured out of the house.

To keep the fire from spreading, SFD set up additional stationary water cannons to keep the flames at bay.  

Also, depending on the shape of the structure, the fire department can train in more ways than simply controlling the fire.

“A lot of times, if we can go inside and train, that’s really valuable when we can do that so if we have that opportunity, they will train inside and outside, but in this particular case it wasn’t in good enough shape for us to do that. We didn’t get a chance to go inside it.”

Starkville Fire Chief Charles Yarbrough echoed McCurdy’s words about the valuable nature of having a live fire for their younger firefighters to tackle.

“I think that’s the most realistic training we can do,” Yarbrough said. “We get a chance to burn a real structure and let the firefighters feel the heat and how water reacts to fire.”

Yarbrough then said if any citizens in the city have a structure they would like to donate, to contact the fire department.

According to the chief, there are certain protocols in place that have to be checked off the list before a controlled burn can be conducted.

“They can give us a call and we will come look at it,” he said.

As the flames began to grow on Wednesday, a small crowd of onlookers gathered on the corner to watch the blaze.

McCurdy recommended using safe practices when watching a controlled burn.

“I would say any time you see something like this, you’re naturally curious, just be careful, especially if you’re driving,” he said. “Pull over and watch, don’t drive down the middle of the road and watch.”