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Burning Down the House
Winthrop dwelling used for firefighter training

This empty house in Winthrop, not far from the ice rink, was burned on Saturday to give live fire training to local firefighters.
Firefighters filled the house with wooden pallets for the practice burn. Twenty firefighters from Okanogan County Fire District 6 participated, as did seven firefighting vehicles.

A house on Winthrop’s White Avenue that’s been sitting vacant for some time was burned Saturday, October 29, by firefighters from Okanogan County District 6.

“This gives all of us an opportunity for live fire training,” said Winthrop Station Capt. John Owen. He added that District 6 has been using the vacant house for weekly training to practice rescues and search and recovery.

 “We have pretend victims in the house and the firefighters have to go find them,” Owen said, adding that sometimes the pretend victim is a dummy, sometimes a person. “A lot of the time we’re doing a rescue of a trapped firefighter in all his gear,” he added.

By late Saturday afternoon the house was history. It was once occupied by Lyle Walker who owned the Evergreen Store (today's Red Apple Market). The current home owner, who lives in Seattle and is traveling, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Owen said it’s not unusual for homeowners to approach the fire department and ask to have a building removed, but usually there is a fairly tight deadline. In this case the house provided at least a month of training opportunities. .

There are four career firefighters in Okanogan County Fire District 6, including Chief Don Waller, plus 32 volunteers, 12 of whom work out of the Winthrop station, Owen said. At the moment there is only one Liberty Bell High School student among the volunteers but historically there have been more from time to time, and three of the district’s firefighters are former LBHS students. The district includes fire stations in Mazama, Winthrop, Twisp and Carlton, which are “highly cooperative,” Owen said.

The organization of local fire fighting services is a bit complex. Twisp has an independent volunteer fire department operated by the town and some of its own firefighting equipment. Winthrop has a contract with the district to provide fire services but also has some of its own equipment. However, the district also has trucks at both stations and the Twisp  firefighters also volunteer with the district. And Winthrop has its own firefighters association.

Owen grew up in an East Coast firefighting family. He said his dad was a volunteer firefighter for 61 years and his mother was active in the auxiliary.

To learn more about local firefighting and volunteer opportunities check out the district’s website at