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Former Denny’s in Carmichael burned to the ground – on purpose

If you see big flames at the former Denny's on Fair Oaks Boulevard in Carmichael Wednesday night -- don't worry. It's a training exercise for Metro Fire.

CARMICHAEL, Calif. — The Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District is intentionally burning to the ground a former Denny’s restaurant in Carmichael.

It’s part of a training exercise just weeks after the Denny’s at Fair Oaks Boulevard and Manzanita Avenue closed.

It’s “super rare” that a team of firefighters get to do a training exercise in an actual small commercial structure like a restaurant, Capt. Chris Vestal with Metro Fire told ABC10.

“Most of us that are still working for Metro Fire have never had this type of commercial structure donated to us for an acquired structure burn,” Vestal said. “When we have these buildings, they behave differently than most residential structure fires.”

They’re more deadly and dangerous than residential fires, he said.

“We lose a lot of people in these kinds of fires, nationally,” Vestal said because commercial structures often have air conditioning units on the roof, which can fall through and kill or trap a firefighter during a fire.

“The nighttime thing is cool because we don’t normally train at night,” he added. “When we pull up to a fire at night, we can’t (easily and immediately) see what’s going on.”

The owner of the building was planning to demolish the structure anyway, Vestal said and decided to donate the demolition thereof to Metro Fire. The owner obtained permits through the county and Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, to make sure the building is asbestos-free and safe for demolition. The building’s owner paid for the permits, Vestal said.

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It’s a win-win: the Metro Fire gets unique training at no extra cost to them and the building’s owner will have less material to pay to haul away since much of it will burn in this prescribed fire. Metro Fire plans to record video of the fire’s progression to study how it spreads and destroys this restaurant structure.

For onlooker and Carmichael native Susan Malakie, the moment is bittersweet. She hung out at this restaurant before it was a Denny’s when she was a 17-year-old working across the street at the now-defunct Pop Shoppe. At the time, the restaurant was called Colony Kitchen.

“So it was 45 years ago that this sort of was the center of our universe,” she said, gesturing to the general area of Fair Oaks Boulevard and Manzanita Avenue. “So when I heard that they were going to burn the building down…I’m like, ‘OK, I have to go look.’ And it was kind of sad. It was like, ‘Aww, man.’ But I know it’s for a good reason.”

Some three dozen Metro Fire firefighters will be benefiting from this training exercise, Vestal said.

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“So, the building owner notices that the fire department needs to train. There’s nothing like training in real-life fire and on a real building. But what he gets out of that is, he gets a better fire department. We get better at our jobs and, ultimately, that presents a better fire department for all of the Sacramento region,” Vestal explained.

Metro Fire plans to ignite the building using straw around 10 p.m. Wednesday, with the peak of the flames being around 11 p.m.

“We use straw because it’s healthier to breathe once it ignites, and it also carries the fire very well,” Vestal said.

Crews will likely fight it into the early morning hours.

“The concern is that people driving by…or the others that are out here to watch, we need them to behave and we need them to not rubberneck as they drive by. If you’re in the area, please listen to our instructions,” Vestal said.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office and the California Highway Patrol will be on the nearby roads to help with traffic.

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