Six-foot flames licked the remains of crumbling stone walls.
Small tendrils of fire crept their way through the grass and toward the nearby field. A sentinel fireman aimed a firehose, heavy with water, and squelched the would-be runaway flames.
A pile of smoking rubble and charred stone walls were all that remained. A portion of the porch somehow survived, white railing blackened and smudged with soot. The steps, piled high with debris, led nowhere.
On Oct. 31, the Madison Fire Department started the controlled burn of a historic home in Rexburg. Firemen stood by in small clusters, arms crossed and fire-proof jackets swung casually over their shoulders. They talked, occasionally motioning at the dying blaze. They finished before noon.
“(Burning the structure down) helps the person that donated it to us because it’s a much smaller amount of material for them to clean up,” said Troyce Minskin, deputy chief at Madison Fire Department.
Across the nation, developers demolish an estimated 200,000-300,000 buildings per year. Building demolition accounts for 90% of construction waste; about 530 million tons that end up in landfills each year.
John Hegsted and his wife, Shelley, lived in the home on the corner of East Moody Road and North 2nd East for 45 years and raised their four children there.
“It’s been a wonderful place to raise our family,” Shelley Hegsted said to East Idaho News. “But since town moved out that way and Walmart came, it’s been so busy. It’s not a fun corner to live on anymore.”
The couple tried to sell the property starting in 2005. A deal with Fred Meyers and Home Depot fell through when the economy faltered in 2008.
Nearly 13 years later, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reached out to the Hegsteads about purchasing the 100-acre parcel to be the site for the new North Rexburg Temple.
“It’s humbled us a lot to think that this is a spot for a temple. We really can’t even believe it,” Shelley Hegsted, a lifelong member of the Church, told East Idaho News. “Whatever they do, it will be done right and nice. We just couldn’t be happier. It will be beautiful.”
However, giving up the historical family homestead saddens Shelley Hegsted.
Shelley’s husband, John, grew up in the house and on the surrounding farmland. His grandfather originally built the home in 1909, and it remained in the Hegsted family for the next three generations.
John and Shelley extensively remodeled the home in 1992; passerby driving to Walmart may never have guessed that the home was well over 100 years old.
The Madison Fire Department reached out to the Church about the possibility of using the structure as an opportunity to practice live fire training in early 2023.
In bigger cities, fire departments own fire training grounds where they gain valuable experience with live fire in a controlled environment. In more rural areas, like Rexburg, the Fire Department relies on the donation of condemned structures to experience live fire training.
“It helps (the fire department) because it gives us and our firefighters an opportunity to see fire behavior from the very beginning to the very end,” Miskin said.
For about three weeks leading up to the complete burning of the structure, Madison firefighters used the home as a training ground to set and put out small house fires, practice rescue techniques and observe fire behavior.
“We practiced lots of techniques on the outside and the inside of the house just so we can refine our skills,” Miskin said. “We just don’t get those opportunities that much and it just makes us better firefighters.”
The night before the building burned, it bore the marks of weeks of live fire training.
Every window in the house was shattered except for one; a single pane of glass in an exterior door avoided shattering but bore an ominous hole.
The words “Fire Class” decorated one wall of the living room in blue, spray-painted letters.
Piles of shredded insulation and broken pieces of drywall obstructed any walkways through the silent, abandoned structure.
The corners of the rooms were blackened and charred.
A single white patio chair sat on the lawn, as though waiting for someone to return.