The Thane Ore House has been a place of rehearsal for Capital City Fire/Rescue engineer John Adams.
Thirteen years ago, he ate at the former restaurant and salmon bake for his wedding rehearsal dinner. On Saturday, he was orchestrating a rehearsal of a different kind. Adams served as the incident commander of CCFR’s live fire training exercise at the longtime local landmark, assigning firefighters into small teams and telling them when and where to enter the burning structure.
“For me it was bittersweet,” Adams said of Saturday’s live fire training exercise. “It is a great opportunity to train for career and volunteer firefighters, but at the same time, it is a historical Juneau building and business. I’m kind of sad to see it fall into such disrepair and is no longer.”
The restaurant closed in 2012 and the property has remained dormant since then. Not any longer, though. The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska was awarded a 35-year land lease for the property, which they plan to turn into a cultural immersion park.
Approximately 20 volunteer and staff firefighters participated in the exercise, which involved a series of controlled burns that firefighters were tasked with extinguishing.
The first fire was set using a propane torch around 10:45 a.m., and smoke began billowing out of the back of the building less than 10 minutes later. Two groups of firefighters entered the structure from the front and rear and spent several minutes hosing down the fire.
“Gets these guys a chance to get in the smoke and the heat of a fire,” CCFR Assistant Chief Tod Chambers said. “Think of the military. They try to simulate battle conditions before they go into battle because the last thing you want to do is throw someone into a gun fight before they’ve had anything similar to that. So we try to do the same thing with fire operations.”
CCFR Chief Rich Etheridge said it took almost a year to get all the necessary permits to carry out the burn. Etheridge said they had to move quickly to beat the weather after they received their final permits from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation on Nov. 13. Most of the firefighters who participated in the drill were volunteers.
One such volunteer was Beau Sylte. Since becoming a volunteer firefighter a year ago, Sylte said he’s responded to five or six fires, but none the size of Saturday’s. He called the training exercise an “invaluable experience”and considered himself lucky to be “on the nozzle” — the person on the end of the hose line — for one of the attack drills.
“Learning to maneuver and manipulate the hose line,” Sylte said when asked what his biggest takeaway was from the day. “It’s an incredibly highly-charged device — lots of PSI of water. It takes a whole team to be able to successfully move it through a burning structure. It was really good just to feel that tension give back from the water and the line.”
After several more fires were set and then batted down, an interior wall in the middle of the building was set and allowed to grow. Around noon, flames rose 80 feet as large swaths of the building caught on fire, drawing a crowd of about 25 people watching from the highway, many filming the fiery scene on their smart phones.
One of those watching from the highway was 62-year-old Gillian Hayes. Hayes danced as part of a sing-along show, the “Gold Nugget Revué”, that told the story of the founding of Juneau, at the Thane Ore House shortly after it was built in 1982. She said the restaurant was very popular back then for its seafood and unbeatable company.
“It was locally caught halibut and sockeye (salmon) and if you didn’t like fish, the ribs were great,” Hayes said. “You didn’t have to dress up. The kids could go out and play horseshoes or dig around in the sand if they wanted to. Reasonably priced — even in the summer when everything gets put up to higher prices, and you didn’t have to put up with that.”
• Contact reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.