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Late historian, WNT editor's home to burn for firefighter training
A piece of Oak Harbor history will go up in flames — repeatedly — over the weekend.
All for a good cause.
Oak Harbor Fire Chief Ray Merrill said the home in which the late Dorothy Neil lived is going to be burned down by the fire department on Saturday.
Actually, it’s going to be set ablaze, extinguished, set ablaze, extinguished over and over again.
Merrill said it seems fitting that Neil’s former home would serve as training for firefighters.
“She was always very supportive of the department,” he said. “Her son Jim was in the department for 20 years.”
Neil was a beloved figure in Oak Harbor until her death in 2004 at age 94. She was a reporter, an editor, columnist and historian for the Whidbey newspapers, including the Whidbey News-Times. She lived for many years in a little house on Barrington Drive, just across a driveway from the former Whidbey News-Times offices.
On occasion, Neil would host newsroom meetings in her living room and impromptu picnics in her back yard. At least one reporter had free use of Neil’s couch for lunchtime naps.
Merrill said the house was originally built in 1907, but was added onto numerous times. It is about 1,400 square feet.
Much of the interior of the house was damaged during a fire last July.
Merrill said the renters at the time apparently lit off fireworks inside the house, igniting a blaze.
Current owners of the house apparently decided that the aging structure is beyond repair and offered the fire department the opportunity to use it for firefighter training, according to Merrill.
It’s a valuable opportunity for the crew.
“We don’t get a lot of structure fires anymore,” he said. “This is a way to keep our skills up.”
Merrill said firefighters with North Whidbey Fire and Rescue and from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station will be taking in the practice burn.
A couple blocks of Barrington Drive and sections of a couple of side streets will be closed off during the fire training, which is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.