MARSTON — Drivers along U.S. 1 may have noticed smoke rising from behind Marston Baptist Church on Saturday as a house burned to the ground.
That fire was set intentionally — as firefighters from four Richmond County departments participated in a controlled burn exercise.
“It’s not very often we get a house that’s still intact to work on,” said Franklin McKay, assistant chief of the Hoffman Fire Department.
Firemen from Hamlet, Mountain Creek and Derby joined those from Hoffman, splitting up into four teams, with each team making three to four runs extinguishing small fires inside the house, McKay said.
“It went smoother than I thought it would,” said Fire Chief Frank McKay.
The original plan was to have the house engulfed by 12:30. But because they were trying to beat the rain, most of the structure was gone by 11:15.
“I went door-to-door yesterday to let folks know what was going on,” the chief said, adding that he also alerted the Richmond County 911 center about the exercise, just in case concerned drivers called it in.
“This was a strange house,” he said, describing the layout.
There was a single-wide mobile home in the center with several built-on additions, making it an eight-room house all together, with different levels that made things tricky.
“You don’t get opportunities like this every day,” the chief continued. “We’ve done half a dozen training sessions on it.”
There were also two junior firefighters participating in the training — Dylon Goodwin from the East Rockingham Fire Department and Matt Gulledge from Hoffman.
With the foundation was still in flames, Goodwin walked around the outside of the house pushing remnants of the walls in so they could finish burning.
Goodwin, 15, has been a junior firefighter for nearly two years and has been involved with several controlled burns.
“You can learn a lot just by sitting out here and watching,” he said.
McKay said even though it was a mild day, it was still “physically taxing.”
“If it was a 90-degree day, you’d have guys layin’ out (from being overheated),” he said, adding he was also concerned about the wind. “You don’t want a house fire in windy conditions…it can get away from you.”
As the structure continued to burn — and after the crews had gotten a bite to eat — hoses were drained and rolled up and other equipment was put away.
“It’s a labor-intensive job,” McKay said. “There’s no shortcut to it, but it’s part of the job.”
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_toler.