TAMPA — The fire started quietly at 9:03 a.m. in the far corner of one room in a two-story steel building.
Within seconds, smoke drooled from the structure's crevices. Temperatures inside soared to 900 degrees.
Uniformed firefighters streamed in, their vision blurred, their direction uncertain, their communication drowned by the noise within their helmets and the oxygen-consuming haze around them.
A typical arson, an untypical perpetrator. This time, the arsonist wore protection: He was another firefighter.
And it was legal.
Tampa Fire Rescue on Friday broke in its newly acquired $200,000 reusable live-fire training burn building, designed to help train recruits.
Built by Swede Survival in California, the structure is made from several steel containers stacked together and attached, with doors and windows.
"I couldn't ask for better," District Chief Troy Basham said, minutes before the crews started the practice blaze by touching a propane torch to an engine of crumpled paper and wood scraps.
"This enables us to come in and find that baby who is in the crib or the elderly women who is lying on the floor," Basham said.
Tampa Fire Rescue spent two years trying to acquire the burnable building, required for maintaining certification with the Florida State Fire College.
Fire Chief Dennis Jones said prior to now, firefighters have either had to travel to Pinellas or Citrus counties for this kind of training.
They also had to conduct practice burns at specially gutted and prepared homes and buildings throughout the city. Under those conditions, preparation efforts were exhaustive and often cumbersome, requiring removal of asbestos and electric wiring.
"We've never had the ability to do real live fire training at this level," Jones said.