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December 20, 2011 9:22 am

House burns at fairgrounds

Written by Gib Mathers

Delray Jones keeps a close eye on the fire. The Park County commissioners wanted the house removed after they didn’t get any bids for the house. For fire training purposes, Powell firemen was more than happy to oblige. Delray Jones keeps a close eye on the fire. The Park County commissioners wanted the house removed after they didn’t get any bids for the house. For fire training purposes, Powell firemen was more than happy to oblige. Tribune photo by Gib Mathers

On Saturday, the house where Park County Fair managers resided upwards of 60 years went up in flames while a dozen or so folks gathered to watch.

The Park County Commission wanted the house removed, and Powell Volunteer Fire Department was more than happy to help with its removal, using the controlled burn as a training opportunity.

All that was worth saving were a few appliances and some kitchen cabinets salvaged by the ReStore in Powell, said 1st Lt. Nate Mainwaring of the Powell Volunteer Fire Department.

The house burn provided a vital training tool for Powell firefighters, teaching fire behavior.

For instance, fire will naturally move to the area of the least pressure, so a high-volume fan will urge the fire to move away from the forced air entering from the fan, Mainwaring said.

The firefighters worked on coordinated rapid fire attack. The goal: learning to increase victim survival rate, firefighter safety and property protection.

Inside, fires were purposely lit. They filled the house with dense smoke, giving the men in full gear, including oxygen masks, a feel for the real thing. Veteran firemen led rookies in teams. The fires ignited on and off produced the equivalent of 12 house fires for training, Mainwaring said.

“Attack team in,” Mainwaring said into his two-way radio.

Thick smoke billowed from cracks like idling exhaust pipes on a cold morning as the firefighters entered. The fan forcing cold air into the super hot building creates a steam cloud, Mainwaring said.

“Mostly, what we’re learning is the correct attack,” he said.

If firefighters can learn to suppress a fire in one room, that prevents its spread and more property damage, Mainwaring said.

After training for hours, the firefighters finally let it go. Quickly, the fire spread. Orange flames eagerly licked walls and the roof, and black smoke boiled upward.

The garage was burned too, but the guys surrounded both buildings with hoses to ensure errant flames didn’t ignite other structures.

The department was grateful to Park County and the city of Powell for allowing firefighters to burn the old house, Mainwaring said.

“It is awesome training for us,” he said.

Burned house prompts memories

The old Park County Fair manager’s house, built in 1954, was burned to the ground Saturday, but the home fire still burns in the heart of a former inhabitant.

The Powell Volunteer Fire Department burned the aging house Saturday as a training exercise after the Park County Commission got no bids from anyone wanting to buy it.

Stephanie (Jackson) Warren, 35, of Powell lived there for 15 years. Her family moved out in 1991.

“From the time I was born until I was almost 15,” she said.

Warren was born in 1976. Her father, Steve Jackson, and grandfather, Bill Jackson, added on to the little place that year, transforming a bedroom into a larger kitchen and dining area.

“My dad put a lot into that place,” Warren said.

Her brother, Todd, was born in 1980. Her sister, Kayla, followed in 1986.

“My brother and I grew up on the fairgrounds,” Warren said. “Our hand prints are still over there where they burned the garage down.”

Those tracks from the past, embedded in 1983, were on the front left side of the garage. Warren said she hopes to recover those remnants.

The fairgrounds are a walk down memory lane and a child’s paradise. The grounds offered the convenience of living in town with the appeal of the country.

Warren’s family had dogs, cats and a couple goats at one time. And, of course, farm animals always were around during fair week.

“It is just amazing all the things you can do as a kid,” Warren said.

The spacious backyard allowed the youngsters to shoot their BB guns, and as they grew, the kids could play soccer there, Warren said.

The kids met lots of interesting people. Fumbles the Clown was a popular attraction, and Warren was Fumbles’ assistant, named Fumblena, of course.

Her dad, as the fair manager, was constantly undertaking projects, and Todd helped.

“My brother really liked that,” Warren said.

The city piled tons of snow on the grounds, and Steve fired up the Bobcat to build the kids’ their own private sled hill, complete with steps to ascend the snowy summit, she said.

Back in the day, Fourth of July fireworks were ignited at the fairgrounds too, Warren said.

Today Warren, with kids of her own, teaches at Powell Middle School. She earned her four-year teaching degree through the University of Wyoming at Northwest College. Now she is working on her master’s degree at home. “Born in Powell, and I never left,” Warren said.

On Saturday, Coach Warren was with her Powell High School swim team so she couldn’t stop to witness her old home’s demise, but it still produced melancholy.

“‘There goes my house,’” Warren said to herself as she drove by.

About a year and a half ago, Warren’s mother, Kirsten, died of pancreatic cancer. “Which, I guess is what made this whole thing more sentimental,” she said.

But, like the smell of cookies wafting from the kitchen, Warren’s memories linger.

“Growing up (there), I think my brother and I were pretty lucky.” Warren said. “We just made it our home.”

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