House used for practice burn was historic
July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:26 PM
"Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue Chief Joe Biller said his force of volunteer firefighters got invaluable, possibly life-saving, experience when they burned down a house on Crockett Prairie Jan. 8.But not everyone was happy about it.Gretchen Luxenberg, the National Park Service liaison to Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, is upset because the house reduced to embers during the training exercise was listed on the National Register as a historic structure.In a letter to the Whidbey News-Times, Luxenberg said the Hugh Crockett House, built in 1868, was a rare structure important to the cultural landscape of the reserve.I understand that the fire department needs to undertake practice burns in order to maintain a skilled fire-fighting work force, she wrote, but can't the department 'just say no' to historic buildings?Yet Biller said the department drove Rob Harbour, the manager of the historical reserve, to the site about a year and a half ago to check out the historical worth of the building.He showed no interest on his part, Biller said.Neither Harbour nor Luxenberg could be reached for comment.Freeman Boyer, the owner of the former house and property, said the house was simply a bad building. He said the original structure had been added on and changed by a bunch of non-carpenters over the years. Nothing was level, he said.Boyer and his wife, Opal, lived in the house from 1956 until 1988 and were glad to get out. It was very windy in there, he said. We re-did the floors because the wind was blowing the rugs off the floor.When Boyer donated the house to the fire department a year and a half ago, Biller said it was completely non-liveable and falling apart.Island County Historical Society President Joan Houchen said the county does not currently have an ordinance to protect historic buildings. She said the society asked the county for a demolition ordinance to protect such structures, but the request was put on the back-burner while the Comprehensive Plan was worked on. "