A barn burns on the Ovenell property in Stanwood on Friday, Aug. 18. The barn was deemed too unstable to be included in the city’s plans for a new park on the land so local fire departments burned it down as a training exercise. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Historic Stanwood barn burned down to make way for park

STANWOOD — The crumbling barn stood against a blue sky as fire trucks pulled up Friday morning.

Debris and brambles filled the inside of the sagging structure. There were holes in the roof and birds swooped around the rafters. The red barn had been there for decades, once at the heart of the Ovenell Farm but lately a dilapidated shell of its former glory.

A few hours after the trucks arrived, bright orange flames licked high into the sky above the sloped roof. Smoke billowed over the west end of Stanwood. It took maybe 10 minutes for the roof to burn through.

Firefighters monitored the blaze, intentionally set to help them hone their skills while doing what they normally wouldn’t: letting a structure burn to the ground.

The fiery demolition made way for a park the city plans. It would include a new barn-themed interpretive center and event space.

Stanwood purchased about 15 acres of what was formerly the Ovenell Farm in 2014 for $1.5 million, mostly funded through a Snohomish County Conservation Futures grant. The land sits along the Stillaguamish River near the bridge to Camano Island.

The city announced this spring that several old wooden barns at the park would be demolished. They were beginning to collapse. There was interest in reclaiming wood from the large barn for other projects, but a 2015 structural assessment found that it was infested with wood-boring Powderpost beetles. That led to the idea of working with firefighters on a practice burn.

The North County Regional Fire Authority partnered with the Arlington Fire Department and Silvana fire district. Firefighters started in a smaller structure adjacent to the barn. They focused on water supply and using hoses efficiently, said Lt. Matt Fleischbein. It’s not the amount of water put on a fire that douses it, he said. There’s strategy involved, and firefighters need to learn to use their equipment in a way that quickly tamps down a blaze while keeping them and others safe.

Practice burns are part of regular training, but it’s “next to never” that crews get to burn a big old barn, assistant chief Don Bartlett said.

“We don’t often get to do defensive fires like this,” Fleischbein said. “There’s no saving (the barn), so the goal is to keep it contained and prevent the spread of other fires.”

Two barns already had been torn down, city engineer Shawn Smith said. The large barn used for the burn is thought to have been one of the first on the property and predates the 1940s, he said.

Ovenell Farm reportedly was established in 1874. It was recognized as a centennial farm, run by the same family for 100-plus years, in 1989, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Some of the Ovenells left Stanwood in the early 1990s for Eastern Washington, where they raised dairy heifers. The farm in Eastern Washington now produces compost and soil amendments. The Ovenell family has been farming for six generations.

A master plan for Ovenell Park and nearby Hamilton Park was adopted by the city last year. Planners anticipate that full development of Ovenell will take five to 10 years, largely due to cost, the historic nature of the property and its proximity to the river. Short-term projects could include parking, restrooms, water and lights.

Among the long-term plans are a boat launch, nature trails, a demonstration garden, and the interpretive center and event space. The committee that worked on the park design envisioned a place where weddings, reunions and FFA or 4H events could be hosted throughout the year.

Demolishing the barns was the big project this summer. The only other work scheduled for a while involves clean-up and maintenance, Smith said.

Joyce and Jerry Magelssen of Arlington came out to get some last photographs of the Ovenell barn before it burned. Barn photography is a hobby of Jerry’s. He went to school with some of the Ovenell boys decades ago, he said. He remembers being on the farm when they raised dairy cows and grew peas.

The couple sat for a while and watched firefighters get ready for the old barn to go up in flames.

Herald photographer Ian Terry contributed to this report.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com

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