Live burn training provides unique opportunity for area fire crews

Published 8:24 am Monday, January 29, 2024

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A once-popular seafood restaurant burned to the ground Thursday, January 18, 2024 during a Nags Head Fire and Rescue training session.

Built in 1985, the 11,167 square foot structure at 6708 South Croatan Highway in Nags Head was once Penguin Isle Restaurant and most recently known as Pamlico Jack’s Restaurant.

The property was sold to the Dare County Tourism Board in 2019. Owning it provided an opportunity for the Tourism Board to expand services for the nearby Soundside Events Site. Both sites overlook the Roanoke Sound.

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After using the building for training during the past several weeks, Nags Head firefighters were joined Thursday by several fire crews from Kitty Hawk, Southern Shores, Colington and Chicamacomico, along with individuals from Buxton and Avon.

Nags Head Fire Chief Randy Wells advised that having the building available to burn was a great opportunity for firefighters to encounter fire in a building that is not a training facility.

“They can get in and see what the real world conditions look and feel like,” said Wells. “They can see how different a structure like this is from a residential fire.”

Wells went on to say that large buildings like the restaurant have a greater fire load, there are many more things that can entangle firefighters, and much greater spans between walls.

“In a building like this,” Wells continued, “if you lose track of your hose line, if you get separated, it can be 30 to 40 feet to a wall where you can work your way to an exit. Fighting a fire in a commercial building like this is very different than in a residential fire. If you try using residential tactics on a commercial building, you are going to get into trouble.”

Starting at 8 a.m. with a safety meeting, fire crews then toured the building’s interior to get a grasp of its size and layout. The rest of the morning they took turns extinguishing fires set at different locations within the building. The final fire to demolish the building was set around 12:30 and plumes of smoke filled the air visible all across the northern Outer Banks. By 3 p.m. little was left.

Although the public was asked to stay clear of the training area and not park along the highway, several cars did stop and were ordered by Nags Head police to keep on moving.

With the restaurant building now gone, the Tourism Board plans are to leave the site as is for now, adding to open space for the area with room for event site parking.

According to Tourism Board executive director Lee Nettles, there had been discussions on using the building and even developing it into an event center. But after careful consideration it was deemed less than financially feasible. As for the former Dairy Queen building, also owned by the Tourism Board, it will also eventually go away but there are no immediate plans for that.

As fire crews watched the few remaining burning embers of the former restaurant building, Wells said that the training evolution was a community effort. In addition to the 36 firefighters at the burn, there were a number of police, EMS, water department and town staff that helped make it happen.