The fire started in a wastepaper basket in the back of the room.
Tiny flames danced toward the nearby bed, gaining height and momentum as they traversed the floor and scaled the furniture. Within moments, the rest of the room's contents -- a small television, a wooden chair, some clothes, a lamp -- were up in flames. In three-and-a-half minutes, it reaches total flashover, and the room itself becomes a billowing yellow-orange fireball.
Fortunately, no one was in the room that Saturday afternoon. More fortunate is that the fire was under control before it even began: Central Emergency Services sparked the blaze intentionally as a demonstration for the City of Soldotna's Safety Day.
The event, put on by the city and the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, took place in the Soldotna High School parking lot this year. The beautiful sunny weather afforded visitors the luxury of lounging on the warm grass while they ate their free hot dogs and watched the freestanding, three-walled room go up in smoke.
"This is what can happen to you if you are far away from our fire department and precautions are not made," CES Fire Marshal Gary Hale told the audience as they looked on in awe.
After CES personnel extinguished the first blaze, a second room, almost completely identical to the first, was set alight. This time, though, a sprinkler system activated after the first minute, stifling the blaze and dramatically minimizing the damage.
The message? Sprinkler systems save lives.
"When you put fire sprinklers in your home, it's like putting a firefighter in your home," Hale said, pointing out that even if the water does not eliminate the fire, it buys time until the fire department can get there.
Hale said more than 99 percent of homes in the area do not have a sprinkler system in place, and that for about $2.50 per square foot, residents can have one installed.
"That is cheap insurance for your life," Hale said.
Another organization that participated in Safety Day was the Safe Kids Kenai Peninsula Coalition, which offered free car seat tests for parents and helmet-fitting for kids. Safe Kids coordinator Jane Fellman said there are so many variables when picking out a car seat, including laws, a child's size, and compatibility with the vehicle.
"We're here to help people sort through all of this," Fellman said. "Our goal is of course to save lives, but we try to help parents work through all of that and get their child in their vehicles and transported as safely as possible."
Mike Hancock, owner of Soldotna's Peninsula Martial Arts Academy, had his students demonstrate "kata," a specific series of movements such as kicks and turns used in karate.
Other organizations that contributed to Safety Day this year included the Alaska State Troopers, the LeeShore Center, Peninsula Smokefree, Crime Stoppers, the Soldotna Police Department, the Division of Forestry, 4-H, and Walk MS.
Nancy Mitchell, a co-sponsor of Safety Day and agent with State Farm Insurance, said that a large reason for putting the event on every year is to express gratitude for the community's emergency personnel.
"They put their lives on the line every day for us," Mitchell said. "These are people who defend us, help us, protect us. And this is just a great time to appreciate them."
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