Firefighters learn as they burn |

Firefighters learn as they burn

Jesse Shaw wants to be a fireman when he grows up.

On Tuesday, the 7-year-old got an up-close look of what he could expect.

Sitting on white plastic chairs, Jesse and his mother, Michele Shaw, watched the building across from their home on Paradise Avenue burst into flames.

They felt the radiating heat. They inhaled the thick, gray smoke. They heard the wood crackle and the windows shatter.

The breathtaking sight was a lesson in many forms.

South Lake Tahoe firefighters studied how a blaze progresses and behaves as it consumes different types of buildings, without the pressure of a real emergency situation.

“The experience is invaluable,” said Division Chief Bill Gilliland of the training exercise, which will take place all this week. “This is the first time some of them have had hands-on fire training.”

And Jesse learned what playing with matches can do.

“When the tree caught on fire, it scared him,” said Shaw, who let Jesse stay home from school Tuesday to watch the burn. “Every child has a fixation with fire. He says, ‘Look how fast it goes, mom,’ and I tell him ‘This is why we don’t play with matches.'”

The Fire Department was able to use the buildings for training as part of a city effort to mitigate the impacts of a previous erosion-control project.

When the buildings are gone, the land will be restored to a stream environment zone – its natural state.

With money contributed by the California Tahoe Conservancy, city of South Lake Tahoe and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the land was purchased and the residents relocated.

The first drill – which destroyed a dilapidated tin barn – was a typical exterior fire where the building is not salvageable, Gilliland said.

“If it is too involved in a fire, we try to confine the fire to the building so it doesn’t spread to the neighborhood,” he said. “With some fires, it’s too hazardous to send people in – the benefit isn’t worth the risk.”

During the second exercise, a fire was started inside the structure, with the intent of extinguishing it before it could destroy the building.

It was an odd thing to see – men in firefighter uniforms adding boards, sticks and bedsheets to the already raging flames.

In a split second, the blaze overtook the front of the old hotel room and engines were called in. A few minutes later, the flames ceased and the few spectators grew calm again.

“See what they do, Kristian?” said Kim Aynedter, pointing out to her 2-year-old son the importance of the profession. “That’s how dangerous fires can be.”

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