Temperatures approached 1,000 degrees within a burning structure Thursday, as the blaze inside sent black smoke spiraling toward a sky full of looming clouds.
It was all part of the training that Santa Barbara city firefighters and other local fire agencies conducted this week, and local media were invited to watch the firefighters quickly contain a large blaze in an 850-square-foot “house,” made of plywood and drywall, built by the firefighters themselves for training.
The training facility was framed like a house but with double the amount of drywall to last many burns.
The house would be set on fire four more times Thursday, and had already been set ablaze dozens of times during the weeklong training at the Stephen Joseph Masto training grounds at 30 S. Olive St.
The specialized training on Thursday involved a new technique called a “positive pressure attack,” in which firefighters set a large fan at the entrance of a burning structure for 30 seconds and allow the smoke to blow away from them so that they can begin to fight the fire.
Capt. Tony Pighetti briefed all of the firefighters before the exercise begin on safety precautions, and the firefighters went into the exercise in their full protective uniforms, including their self-contained breathing apparatus, or SCBA, which funnels clean air into their masks.
The structure was made only out of wood, so nothing too toxic would be in the air during Thursday’s burn. During an actual structure fire, however, everything from couches to carpet, many made out of petroleum derivatives, would be going up in smoke, releasing toxic chemicals, according to fire engineer Hank Homburg.
After Thursday’s first blaze started, one firefighter circled the building with a thermal imaging camera, which showed where the fire was hottest inside the structure, and if victims had been trapped, would have clearly shown their outlines as well based on their body heat.
Homburg said live training such as Thursday’s is more important than ever.
People are quick to report a fire as soon as they’re alerted by a smoke detector or they see the smoke, so firefighters are able to put out the fire before it evolves into a full blaze.
“We get called almost immediately,” he said.
But that means firefighters have less experience with full blazes, according to Homburg, and they need that exposure during training.
Smoke detectors are vital for residents, he said, and encouraged people to have two ways to exit their homes and a meeting place outside designated ahead of time.