In just 30 minutes, a camp at 95 Misty Bay Road was burned to the ground.
Luckily, the total loss was planned: The early Saturday morning blaze was intentionally set by Milton Fire Department as a live burn training, Chief Don Turner said.
Live burns are relatively rare these days, Turner said, because it’s hard to find abandoned properties in town or those without too many neighbors.
In Saturday’s case, the camp’s owner, a Utah resident, planned to renovate the cottage but realized demolishing it would be cheaper. His brother, a Westford firefighter, contacted Milton Fire and proposed turning the opportunity into a practice run.
A lot goes into planning such an event: First, the owner has to complete an environmental assessment to be sure the fire won’t incinerate chemicals or asbestos in the process. The department obtains a free permit from the state Air Quality Division, agreeing to mitigate pollutants, and makes sure there are no insurance liabilities on the property. The owner agrees to dispose of the charred remains at cost.
Then the department notifies the neighbors 10 to 12 days before a planned burn to ensure there are no conflicts. Sometimes, a drill gets shut down if abutters have health issues that would be irritated by smoke, Turner said. The OK came through this time.
“It’s essential training that is becoming less and less available,” Turner said. “Any time we get an opportunity to do this, we really seize that opportunity.”
Previous to Saturday’s burn, Milton Fire visited the site three times to practice smoke drills. Leadership hid a mannequin in the building and used the department’s smoke machine to decrease visibility during a staged search-and-rescue mission.
But this time, they had to contend with heat: “It’s a whole different dynamic,” Turner said.
Twenty-eight of Milton Fire’s members headed out on Lake Road, all the way to Misty Bay, which borders Lake Champlain, around 7 a.m. Saturday. They then started fires using pallets and hay bales and repeated the drill six times.
Only one minor injury occurred when a firefighter accidentally stepped on a flashlight outside the cordoned-off “danger zone,” Turner said. Crews were back at the station by 11:30 a.m.
Turner said the experience was a valuable one for his volunteer crew
“We’ve got to be ready to do the job when they need us,” Turner said.