Renton fire crews learn lessons from a live fire

Grover Shegrud of Lynnwood couldn’t stay away Thursday from a home he designed and built for his family in 1966.

Grover Shegrud of Lynnwood couldn’t stay away Thursday from a home he designed and built for his family in 1966.

In December, the family held what likely was their last Christmas in the house. It was.

On Thursday, the Renton Fire Department burned it to the ground.

“If I built it, I should watch it go down,” Shegrud said.

The family had sold the house and property to a developer who is building a new medical building on Talbot Road South just south of Valley Medical Center. The developer had donated the house to the City of Renton for a live-fire exercise for the city’s fire crews.

The training was Tuesday and Wednesday, with the finale on Thursday, when fire crews stood by to monitor the “house fire.” A starter fire was lit at about 12:40 p.m. on the bottom floor of the four-bedroom, tri-level house. Less than an hour later, the house was fully engulfed in flames.

The fire at a home filled with a family’s possessions would have spread much more quickly. But the house had been stripped before the exercise of most everything not nailed down, including carpeting and vinyl flooring.

The smoke was visible for miles and the practice burn drew onlookers, including Shegrud and members of his family.

The live-fire exercise was a rare opportunity for Renton firefighters and their commanders to practice their skills in a controlled setting, including fire attack, search and rescue and ventilation techniques.

The city received permission to conduct the exercise from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, which monitors and requires extra precautions be taken to minimize impacts on the environment.

The Fire Department learned some lessons that it will use in its training program, according to Capt. Roy Gunsolus of the department’s Safety/Training Division.

The key was the realism provided by the live-fire exercise, he said.

“There is no fake fire. There is no fake environment,” said Gunsolus.

Before the starter fire was set, a fire suppressant was sprayed on the surrounding trees, although some still caught fire due to the intense heat from the fire. Crews quickly turned their hoses on the trees, including one from a water cannon mounted on the fire engine.

Shegrud watched as first the smoke became heavier and darker. Flames erupted in the back of the house first, then shot through the boarded-up windows in the living room at the front of the house.

“It’s quite a show,” said Shegrud.

Jokingly, he said he’s surprised the fire didn’t happen sooner, having raised five kids in the house.

“Oh, yeah. It’s a little emotional,” he said of seeing his home burn.

Shegrud lived there for about for about 30 years and his former wife, Helen (Shegrud) Sipes even longer.

Son Luke was keeping his mother informed of the fire’s progress via cell phone. “She was a little sad,” he said.

Luke grew up in the house.

“It’s a fitting end, rather than bringing in a bulldozer and tearing it down,” he said.

Dean A. Radford can be reached at 425-255-3484, ext. 5050, or at