Smoke billowed over Cascade Locks on Saturday morning while the Cascade Locks Fire Department conducted a “burn and learn” exercise.
Three dilapidated houses at the corner of Regulator and Moody streets were set ablaze for the training drill. Fire Chief Mike Renault said the controlled burn gave 17 volunteer firefighters — especially five new recruits —a rare opportunity to gain hands-on experience.
“Cascade Locks only has a structure fire once every five years so when we can do this, we can sign off on a lot of certification skills,” Renault said.
Last fall, the city approached Douglas Jenson, the owner of the buildings, about using them for a live fire training. The aging dwellings had fallen into disrepair and had a long history of being inhabited by drug users and dealers.
Jenson, a Portland resident, not only agreed to the destruction of the structures, but paid for the disposal of interior debris and furniture prior to the burn. City Ordinance Enforcement Officer Kevin Dean coordinated the effort to clean out the houses, utilizing youth community service crews from both Multnomah and Hood River counties.
Because of their proximity to neighboring properties, two of the buildings were flattened and piled on the central blaze in the house at the junction of the two streets. In addition to observing the fire behavior, Cascade Locks personnel practiced breaching walls and ceilings, rescuing victims and applying varied techniques for containing and extinguishing flames.
Renault credits greater public awareness about fire danger for lowered call rates in recent years. He said city officials have taken an active role in educating citizens on simple steps they can take to prevent both house and wildfires.
“Public education makes a lot of difference,” Renault said.
After the morning exercise was completed, Cascade Locks Interested in Kids, the local drug prevention agency, celebrated the elimination of the problem homes by hosting a free community hot dog feed.