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Callaway cafe up in smoke

A fireman's silhouette is outlined agains the embers afterf a controlleld burn Monday night in Callaway. (Larry Noah / For the Record)

A controlled burn in Callaway Monday evening gave firefighters from Callaway, Audubon and Detroit Lakes the chance to run some training exercises.

A former restaurant in Callaway, Bakers' Café, was destined to be demolished anyway, so Larry Noah, who bought the property, decided to invite firefighters to use it before it was torn down.

"They did a fantastic job," said Noah, whose building, Noah Insurance Service, was about 25 feet away from the burning restaurant. "It was very impressive, how well they took care of it."

Callaway Fire Chief Keith Heinlein said firefighters did a number of drills before letting the building burn to the ground.

"We did training on level 1 and level 2 burns," he said. "Level 1 is when you have a crew inside and you light it from the start and they watch how the fire reacts and slowly builds, and then they put it out."

Level 2 training is "more realistic," he added. The building is already in trouble when firefighters arrive, and they don't know where the fire is or what the building's layout is.

They have approached the problem just like they would when fighting an unplanned fire.

Noah said the firefighters were pumped up about the training exercise, since they don't get that many chances to practice on larger buildings.

He said it took him three months to get final clearance from state pollution control authorities, who worked with his demolition company, Barry Excavating of Dent, to remove asbestos and other dangerous substances prior to the fire.

The front of the building's tall façade, for example, was covered with asbestos siding, though siding on the rest of the building did not contain asbestos.

Noah said the training exercise attracted about 200 spectators and lasted from 6:30 p.m. until about 8:30 p.m., when the building was allowed to burn down.

He was impressed with how well the firefighters protected both his building and the Callaway Liquor Store building nearby.

"They had trucks positioned with big reservoirs so they had extra water if they needed it," he said. "They had a sprinkler-type thing spraying to create a wall of water between buildings, and had firefighters on the roof of the liquor store and on the ground near his building to protect those structures.

"They worked with the weather (the wind was blowing away from the insurance building) and they worked with their skills and they did a great job."

They also planned the exercise so that the building toppled in on itself -- even the large front façade. "There were people watching who thought it would fall into the street, but it toppled right in, just like they wanted it to," Noah said.

The former Bakers' Café has been closed for the last half-dozen years or so, Noah said. Before that it had four owners in five years. But prior to that it was run by the same family for about 30 years, so everyone around town still calls it Bakers' Café,

Noah said there are no immediate plans for the restaurant site. It will be become a grassy lot.

And Heinlein, the fire chief, said the Callaway Fire Department is looking for a few good volunteer firefighters. He can be reached on his cell phone at 218-841-5782.