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Fire departments from Park Rapids, Menahga, Nevis, Carsonville and Wolf Lake burned two houses down. Crews of five took turns extinguishing the blazes, then re-igniting them on U.S. Highway 71, Park Ave. So. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Fires light up Park Rapids

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BY Sarah smith

A controlled burn in mid-town Park Rapids Saturday of two homes on a major thoroughfare should have been set to music, it was so well-orchestrated.

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The two houses on South Highway 71 were burned down to make room for a new dialysis clinic parking lot on South Main street, just behind the homes.

Five fire departments converged on the neighborhood early Saturday to certify in live burn training.

Each home was assigned 11 teams of firefighters. Those teams of four and five firefighters took turns entering the burning buildings to extinguish the flames. Then the fires were stoked up for the next team.

It’s a technique called “positive pressure,” said the Park Rapids Fire Department’s training officer Pat Mikesh.

“We set a fan at the door and break out a window for ventilation,” he said. “You’re forcing the fire back into the room so it wouldn’t finger out, spread through the rest of the building. You don’t want to push the fire into the unburned stuff. It keeps the heat out, keeps the flammable gases out and limits the fire.”

The training exercise was conducted by Fire Inc., which had 10 instructors on the scene.

Spectators lined the sidewalk across the street from the burn. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

A decision was made Saturday morning, based on the wind direction, to park the fire engines in the alley behind the burn. That afforded spectators an eagle-eye view of the action. Crowds, most with cell phone or digital cameras, lined the sidewalk across the street to watch.

Police and sheriff’s deputies oversaw crowd control, and there were only a few minor incidents throughout the day, Mikesh said.

There was minimal smoke throughout the day.

“It vented right up,” Mikesh said.

Employees at Hugo’s grocery store three blocks north said they could smell smoke periodically and by mid-afternoon when the wind switched there was some concern the clouds were wafting toward the hospital.

“We’d talked to them beforehand and they said they’d shut down their ventilation system” if the smoke became bothersome, Mikesh said. It didn’t.

Mikesh, the town mayor, spent the last few months going door to door to talk to nearby residents and businesses that might be affected.

A large display board in the alley kept track of the teams, and which firefighter was leading which team. The north house, 701 Park Avenue, had 19 burns; the south house 11.

“705 (the south house) got into the vents and kind of got away from them,” Mikesh said. Instructors were on the scene to douse flames that seemed to want to get out of control.

Safety officers for each of the five departments were busy keeping track of individual firefighters. They all carried what are called “accountability boards,” dry erase boards. As a firefighter enters a burning structure, the safety officer removed a tag on the back of the firefighter’s helmet, clipped it to the board and noted the time that firefighter entered the building.

The safety officer then notes the time that firefighter exits the building and puts the name tag back on their helmets. It’s crucial to keep track of everyone on the scene, especially when dozens of firefighters responded.

Mikesh designed the teams so that firefighters from each squad worked together.

The first match was lit at 9 a.m. and the last fire was extinguished around 4 p.m.

The crowds cheered when a wall fell, or ceiling boards toppled, laden with burning embers.

The Park Rapids Fire Department, which is located down the street, served sandwiches and beverages so famished firefighters could nourish themselves between team breaks.

Mikesh checked on the neighborhood at 10:30 p.m. to make sure no embers presented a lingering problem.

“Sunday I didn’t do a whole lot,” the mayor admitted. “I was pretty tired.”

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ssmit

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers Hubbard County, courts and breaking news.

(218) 732-3364
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