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Mesquite Fire & Rescue Carry Out Controlled Burn - Videos & Slideshow
Posting Date: 04/04/2012

By Barbara Ellestad
Mesquite Fire & Rescue destroyed an abandoned house in a controlled burn Apr. 3. Photos by Barbara Ellestad.

Mesquite Fire & Rescue destroyed an abandoned
house in a controlled burn Apr. 3. Photos by
Barbara Ellestad.

"You don't have time to call 911 from inside the house."

A bit of Mesquite history goes up in flames

While the old house may have been an eyesore to many, one longtime Mesquite resident was "really sad to see it go."

That's how a woman felt as she watched the Mesquite Fire and Rescue Department destroy an abandoned house on W. Old Mill Road yesterday, Apr. 3, in a controlled burn.

Tommy Leavitt and his wife, Mary Lynn, originally located a mobile home on the property high on the hilltop. Tommy, a local native born and raised in Bunkerville was educated as an architect, also receiving a doctorate in education. Mary Lynn, a native of Mesquite, was also an educator. After college, they returned to Mesquite.

Tommy began his teaching career at the Virgin Valley Elementary School. He later became a drafting teacher at the Virgin Valley High School and also taught calf roping there. Mary Lynn was an English teacher at the high school.

Tommy was elected to the first City Council after Mesquite was incorporated in 1986.

"It was a beautiful house up there," commented the source for this information who wished to remain unnamed. "After they moved the mobile home up there, Tommy got the idea from someone else to build a basement underneath it. He figured he could do it with his background as an architect. Later, they built the house itself. It had a beautiful swimming pool on the southwest side and lots of palm trees. In fact, a lot of palm trees all over Mesquite were transplanted from Tommy's place."

The Leavitts were the High School's drill team advisors. "One year they lined up the whole drill team on the front steps and took a picture," commented the source.

After the Leavitts retired, they eventually moved to St. George, UT. "Tommy died a few years ago. Mary Lynn still lives in St. George."

Anatomy of a Controlled Burn

It only took about 30 minutes for fire to destroy the abandoned house that stood beside I-15 for close to 40 years. Mesquite Fire Chief John Higley and his crews were joined by firefighters from Bunkerville and Beaver Dam, and the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers, as they lit a controlled burn on the property, sending what remained of a Mesquite landmark up in flames and smoke. Patricia Ringgenberg from Clark County Air Quality & Environmental Management was on hand to monitor the fire activity.

As firefighters surrounded the house on all sides to prevent the fire from becoming out of control, Higley first searched the house to make sure no one was inside. He had previously stacked flammable materials in two locations in the basement and two places on the main floor. "I took two flares in and lit the side furthest from my exit and then lit the other side on the top floor first. Then I wouldn't have to deal with any smoke coming up from the basement. And, I wouldn't have to worry about the floor caving in on me if I had started the fire below first. Then I

went into the basement and did the same thing."

Had it been a real fire, "we would have sent both stations to fight the fire," Higley commented. "Our first concern is life safety. We make sure family members are accounted for and that they are okay. If not, we dedicate one person to take care of family members. If there are people still inside the home, we attempt to determine where they are."

He explained that sometimes the front door is not always the easiest access point in a fire and that crew members may have to use windows.

Higley added that "sometimes the firefighters can't attempt a rescue inside a burning building because of staffing shortages. To ensure the safety of firefighters, Higley's Fire Department uses a 'two-for-two' principle that requires two firefighters to remain outside the fire for every two that may have to go inside.

Once a fire has been extinguished, Higley said the crew begins an "overhaul. They go in looking for spot fires and try not to destroy any evidence that may be there as far as how the fire started. We determine cause and origin, and if it's criminal, we try to determine motive."

Deputy Fire Chief Rick Resnick is a certified arson investigator on the Mesquite Fire Department staff and "he's a certified police officer," Higley said.

He explained that the Department would let the day's controlled fire burn as long as they could to destroy as much material as possible,

He described the house as being built with "heavy materials. The cross beams between the floors were actually telephone poles. They would burn forever if we let them. We'll extinguish what's left of the fire about 3:30 this afternoon. Then it's the property owner's responsibility to clean up the rest of it and complete the demolition."

"As people view this fire, they need to remember that fire grows exponentially. It doubles in size exponentially every minute. Fire grows extremely fast. People are surprised when they are caught in a fire, thinking they had enough time to get out. You don't. You don't have time to try to put the fire out or do anything else," Higley exclaimed.

"Get out of the house. That's all you have time for. You don't have time to call 911 from inside the house. That's why we encourage families especially to practice exit drills in their home. How are they going to get out of the house? Where are they going to meet afterwards? It's all about personal safety," Higley said.

Editor's note: As I was filming the fire from about 100 yards away, at the bottom of the hill, I could feel the heat from the flames. I can't imagine how firefighters withstand the heat when they are up close, fighting the fire. Crews were very careful to monitor surrounding buildings and fields during the controlled burn to ensure no sparks ignited unwanted flames.

The small playhouse 25 feet or so from the house was not purposely ignited by the fire crews. One firefighter commented to me that the intense heat and flames from the house started the playhouse on fire. My thanks to the Mesquite Fire and Rescue Department for their assistance in this story.


  • Posted Date: 04/04/2012
    Good job, MFD. You are are pro's. Now if the city council would take a hint and do something with the rest of the derelict buildings on Mesquite Blvd, we would have a nice looking town.
    By: Vic M
  • Posted Date: 04/04/2012
    I agree with Vic M. Why arn't the derelict buildings on Mesquite Blvd and Sandhill condemned and destroyed?
    By: Nan
  • Posted Date: 04/04/2012
    "Why arn't the derelict buildings on Mesquite Blvd and Sandhill condemned and destroyed?" . . and those that are incompatible with the southwestern architecture theme, such as the arts center!
    By: -
  • Posted Date: 04/08/2012
    The Hafen Dairy building was supposed to be taken down last summer. The eyesore is still there welcoming people to Mesquite. Did the city back down?
    By: Gary
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