Wrangell in a snowy cloak.

Burning Down the House

While driving toward town, we rounded the point at the bluffs and saw a column of smoke rising from a residential area. There were five miles to speculate on whether someone was burning a big pile of brush, doing a little spring cleaning, or whether what we didn’t want to think about was changing someone’s life. Three miles from the smoke we could just make out the flashing lights. The combination of fear and the will to help other people creates a time-stretching tension.

As we came around the last bend before the fire there were fire department personnel flagging traffic, vehicles pulled off of the road onto the bike path, and bystanders watching the blaze.

Wrangell Fire Department in action

The remains of a house roiled in orange flames.

The barbeque grill and condiment table were set up and hamburgers were being handed out.

Burgers and drinks at the fire.



Wrangell Fire Department does practice burns to hone their skills. This house, which was donated for training purposes, was started on fire at 6:30p.m. and it burned until 9:30. The WFD worked the blaze in their turnout gear for those three hours, and then took care of their equipment after that.

They worked hard.

They might not have had the chance to get dinner after their day job and before the fire. Those hamburgers off of the grill were pretty welcome. Especially considering that the crew is volunteer.

Wrangell pays a part-time Fire Chief position and one full-time administrative position. The rest of the volunteers are given training and the equipment that they need to do their jobs, and they donate their time. They put in four evenings a month, have a radio on their person or within earshot every minute, plus respond to fire, EMS, and search and rescue calls.

I am so very thankful that they are so generous. And brave. Not everyone is suited for this difficult work. The people who are suited for it, and are expending their energy on something so valuable, are appreciated.

I can't face this like they do.

This house was far beyond it’s useful life and hadn’t been lived in for many years. It may have been old and dry, but it was built of heavy timbers from the Wrangell sawmill days. It took longer to burn than some people expected. The lot it sat on used to be a salvage yard and is in a cleanup phase.

Keeping the fire under control.

The fire department set the house on fire and then controlled the burn, allowing the roof to collapse safely, pushing sections of walls in with a blast of water here and there, keeping the fire hot but not too hot. They used their training and then expanded on it with direct experience.

Cooling the fire.

Some volunteers start young.

The cleanup crew.

Under close supervision, of course.

The boss is watching.

They grow up knowing that they are part of the community. Included. Valued.

Plus they grow big and get to play with fire.

A big thank-you to the entire Wrangell Fire Department!!

Happy and safe barbequing to you this season!

Alaska Beachcomber.