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Stanley firefighters burn exercise draws complaints

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Firefighters in Stanley burned down a dilapidated factory on the north side of town last month as a training exercise, but the burn turned problematic when the wind shifted, leading to smoke-filled residences, at least one hospitalization and complaints to city officials.

Three people upset about the planned burn vented their frustration at a City Council meeting last week. Rena Crane, who lives two blocks from the fire site at 711 N. Broadway St., said smoke seeped into her apartment, aggravating her asthma.

“I had to keep the whole house closed up and the fan going, but it still seeped in,” Crane said. “I ended up getting really sick from it and coughing and coughing.”

Stanley Mayor David Jankoski said he is aware of one person with asthma requiring treatment at Our Lady of Victory Hospital in Stanley.

“Two of the ladies who came to the (City Council) meeting went to a hotel (because of the smoke fumes),” Jankoski said. “They lived right across from the burn site.”

The building was constructed in the early 1900s and was once a factory where cheese was packaged and shipped out. In later years the building was converted to a clocks shop. It had sat empty for years and was in bad shape, Jankoski said.

“It was an old wooden structure that had deteriorated,” Jankoski said. “It was just in total disrepair and was falling down. It was an eyesore and hazardous.”

Trophy Trailers, which owns the property, approached the city about burning down the building. Fire Chief Ron Zais said he saw it as a rare opportunity for a training exercise.

“It's a valuable asset to be able to do this, without risking any lives,” Zais said.

The building was set on fire Nov. 6, and 16 firefighters extinguished the blaze.

However, neighbors were not alerted that the building would be burned that day.

“Usually, we don't (inform the public),” Zais said. “We felt it was far enough away from the general public (so residents didn't need to be notified).”

Zais said he chose the burn for that day because the wind was blowing directly west that morning, over Chapman Lake and away from residences. However, by noon the wind had shifted and blew smoke into residences north and east of the factory.

Adding to problems was the fact the burning building seemed especially smoky, Zais said.

Zais said the factory didn't contain asbestos. But that didn't satisfy Crane, who contends other cities wouldn't have allowed a building near residences to be burned instead of demolished.

“My point is, you didn't have to burn at all,” Crane said.

Jankoski said he will meet with the city Police and Fire Commission to discuss the issue and possible ways to conduct future burns differently.

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