Controlled burn tests firefighters’ mettle on hot day

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By Sam Hickman

 SHALLOTTE — Emergency personnel were on hand to test the vital signs of the firefighters brave enough to step inside a burning house Saturday, June 21, in Shallotte.


On a day where temperatures reached into the mid-90s, the Shallotte Fire Department, along with various agencies from across the county, conducted a controlled burn on Wall Street off of Main Street in Shallotte.

With the help of instructors of the Wilmington Police Department, Shallotte Fire Chief Paul Dunwell and safety Lt. Chris Heath, members of the Shallotte, Bald Head Island Public Safety, Shallotte Point Volunteer, Sunset Beach and Calabash fire departments participated in the training exercise.

The practice was especially difficult because of the weather, Shallotte firefighter Kurt Reinert said.

“It was even more difficult because it was so sticky out there, especially in the morning,” he said. “Obviously with the fire it’s hot anyway, but the (natural) heat makes it even tougher.”

Reinert said the most difficult task for firefighters to handle concerning the weather is recovery time.

“A lot more rehab is involved when it gets that hot outside,” he added.

As individual rooms of the house and its contents — including plywood, wooden crates and broken parts of trees — were burned throughout the day, firefighters retreated to shaded, wooded areas around the house to recover.

Many of the firefighters couldn’t wait to shed their equipment and place a cold washcloth over their face while another group of first responders geared up while the next room was being prepared for burn.

Motorists who could see the blaze driving through downtown Shallotte turned down Wall Street; many thought the fire department headquarters had caught on fire.

Eventually, the police department parked one of its vehicles on the street so more cars couldn’t drive down Wall Street and disturb the exercise. This didn’t stop more than 20 people from walking down the street to take photographs and capture video of the house burning to the ground more than seven hours after the exercise began at 8 a.m.

No more than 10 yards separated the fire department from the donated structure that was engulfed during Saturday’s exercise.

Dunwell said the town is preparing for its next controlled burn but hasn’t set a date for it.

The next structure that will be burned is another abandoned house on Wall Street, he said.

Reinert said he and other members of the fire department were looking forward to the next exercise.

“We set up rooms, take crews in, and basically handle room and contents type fires,” he said. “But it’s really helpful and great practice. It’s a great teamwork and team building exercise with the other departments being trained together like this.”

Dunwell encourages residents, particularly those with respiratory problems who could suffer from smoke inhalation, to take precautions when there is a controlled burn.


Sam Hickman is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or shickman@brunswickbeacon.com.