El Dorado Hills firefighter/paramedic Dale Hemstalk stands behind a fire department explorer dousing flying debris from the burning home firefighters deliberately set ablaze Sunday afternoon as part of a training exercise. Village Life photo by Noel Stack

Feature Photos

Firefighters burn home … on purpose

By From page A1 | March 26, 2014

Thick black smoke billowed in the breeze as flames leapt from a burning Sienna Ridge Road home Sunday afternoon and, all the while, firefighters stood around and watched.

Occasionally, a firefighter would pick up a hose and douse smoldering debris that drifted into the air. But they let the house burn to the ground — on purpose.

This wasn’t a firefighters strike; it was an intentional, controlled training exercise. Property investors Matthaus Dangier and Mark Sienkiewicz donated the old 2,800-square-foot home to the El Dorado Hills Fire Department. They planned to tear it down when they bought the property last year, Dangier said, when a friend suggested they ask local fire officials if they could use the house as a training tool. The location was ideal as the home was situated on 13 acres with only one nearby structure, a barn that remained intact.

Fire Marshal Mike Lilienthal jumped at the opportunity. He’s set up more than a dozen training exercises like this one during his fire service career and said El Dorado Hills hadn’t done one in more than 15 years. It took several months to get permits and details in place and crews had to pull out insulation and other hazardous material before the house could be set on fire.

Over the weekend, firefighters used the home and property to further educate themselves on the dangers of “flash overs” (when everything ignites at the same time, often with fatal results if a firefighter is in the room) and practice roof ventilation, firefighter rescue and interior search and rescue. Because of the drought, Lilienthal said firefighters used as little water as possible to extinguish flames.

One firefighter suffered minor steam burns during an exercise, according to Lilienthal, but overall the two-day event was a success. “To have it work out the way you want is really cool,” he said.

The grand finale was apparent to everyone in the area around 2 p.m. Sunday. Drivers on Bass Lake Road and Sienna Ridge Road stopped to watch and take pictures/video with their phones as flames engulfed the home and the roof collapsed. Highway 50 drivers also slowed down when thick smoke rose into the blue sky on the north side of the freeway.

“That’s amazing,” Dangier said as swirling flames rose in the air and part of the house began to collapse.

He noted that the previous owner allegedly hid gold in the walls but they found nothing when they prepped the house.

Firefighters did, however, get invaluable training thanks to this donation, Lilienthal noted. In addition to El Dorado Hills firefighters, crews came out from Latrobe, Rescue and Cal Fire based in Cameron Park. Volunteer firefighters and explorers, as well as arson investigators, also participated.

Noel Stack


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