A billowing cloud of black smoke, vivid flames and a street roped off by fire hoses drew a crowd Tuesday afternoon as Hermiston Fire & Emergency Services teamed with Les Schwab for a "Burn to Learn" behind the Hermiston tire center.

About 25 firefighters were on the scene Tuesday when the fire department set the residence, immediately behind Les Schwab on Jennie Avenue, on fire for the exercise; six of those earned some sort of first-time training, from holding a high-pressure hose to pumping the truck. Both Les Schwab and a neighboring home were constantly sprayed with water to keep the fire isolated.

"It's a hot fire... We went inside [the Les Schwab building] and checked the walls," Les Schwab manager Steve Scott said on the scene. "There's no heat at all going inside that building."

Hermiston assistant fire chief Scott Stanton coordinated the exercise and said the burn to learn benefits everyone.

"It went well. This is a win-win for us, Les Schwab and the community," Stanton said Wednesday. "We get invaluable training, Les Schwab reduced their demolition fees and the community gets a brand-new tire center."

The property, as well an adjacent residential lot, is owned by Les Schwab and will be cleared for renovations and new construction. The comprehensive plan will redevelop the existing tire center and expand the overall site, removing the existing 12,500 square-foot building and replacing it with a new 12,200 square-foot center.

"We've used the building for several trainings but the building itself isn't really conducive to indoor fire training," Chief Pat Hart said. "Since they've let us use it so many times, we said we'd burn it down for them."

Although Tuesday's site did not meet requirements for internal fire suppression training, it was used during the Oregon Volunteer Firefighters Association annual conference June 23-26 for a fire investigation class, and the Hermiston department has used it for ventilation and search and rescue training.

The assistant chief said the department conducts burn to learn training about once a year.

"It's getting harder and harder to find homes that we can do this to," he said. "Obviously you can never get too much training, so everyone there was getting something."

Volunteer firefighter Ed Ingersoll agreed.

"This is a lot of fun - coming out here and burning something down - not that I'm an arsonist," Ingersoll said. "Everybody - I don't care if you're a veteran, full time, part time or a volunteer firefighter - you always learn something new doing stuff like this. No two fires are the same."

Click here for a photo gallery of the blaze.

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