Sandy Floe’s house was consumed by flames in a permitted, controlled burn. (Bill Paul/Clallam County Fire District No. 1)

WEST END NEIGHBOR: A story to tell under the ashes

THERE ARE TIMES when setting something ablaze seems like a good solution.

Flames also draw people’s attention.

So when Sandy Floe decided to set fire to his two houses beside U.S. Highway 101 around milepost 210, people noticed.

Floe had contacted a few West Enders about tearing down the cabins, but ultimately it was a deal he struck with Clallam County Fire District No. 1 that finally enabled him to get rid of the buildings and their upkeep.

Floe figured the larger of the two houses was built in the 1930s.

He lived in it as a child with his parents, Sanford and Esther, during the 1950s and ’60s.

As an adult, Floe moved to Randle and rented out his West End house.

From time to time, Floe’s son Brian would stay in the smaller house.

Last year, the decades-long tenant moved out and Brian was staying elsewhere.

“There was too much maintenance to go along with the houses,” Floe said.

For example, the water system used a nearby creek as its source.

So he contacted Bill Paul, fire chief for Clallam County Fire District No. 1.

He and Floe worked together to get the required controlled burning permit from Olympic Region Clean Air Agency.

But Paul wanted to do more than help a neighbor, which is not unusual for the Forks and Beaver fire departments.

He had a specific purpose for the structures in mind: Training.

He explained that while there is plenty of standardized training, no two house fires are the same, and relatively safe, real-life situations are beneficial for newer firefighters.

Dressed in their personal protective equipment, 10 West End volunteer firefighters met with Paul and Floe early in April at the property and lit the larger house on fire.

Paul and his firefighters went inside the structure to discuss various scenarios and aspects of the house that affect the blaze.

The crew stayed inside until Paul decided it was unsafe before they walked out and watched it burn.

The smaller second house went up in the same way.

Paul was proud his volunteers gave up their weekend time to expand their experience.

“We have simply amazing volunteers that truly love the community and I really can’t say enough good things about them,” Paul said.

Floe also appreciated the give and take of assistance from most people involved.

“The county was really good about taking the value of the structures off the tax assessment,” he said.

A roughly 6-foot area was revealed after the house had been consumed that had some history to it.

“There was a trapdoor in the kitchen that led to that small cement area,” Floe said.

“That’s where they stored bootleg whiskey.”

Original owner “Cougar Mike” Michaels and his friend, Sy Garrett’s, off-work activities included going around Prohibition.

Indeed, the burn exposed a small room dug down into the earth with cemented walls.

A person could easily have stood up in the small space underneath the house.

The room was about the size of a small bathroom.

During a telephone interview with Floe from his place in Randle, I didn’t detect any sadness at the loss of the houses.

However not everyone felt the same way.

Bear Creek resident Molly Erickson fondly remembers her friend Esther Floe when she lived in the larger house.

She told me several tales of this strong woman who might not have always remembered the names of the people in old photos but could name each and every horse.

After Esther’s husband, Sandy’s father, died, Esther remained in the house on the highway in the middle of nowhere.

Both Erickson and Floe recall that the local logtruck drivers bought Esther a CB radio so they could check on her while transporting their loads to and fro on the highway.

Her handle was Easter Lilly.

Fortunately, memories don’t burn.


Zorina Barker lives in the Sol Duc Valley with her husband, a logger, and two children she home-schools.

Submit items and ideas for the column to her at zorina [email protected], or phone her at 360-327-3702. West End Neighbor appears in the PDN every other Tuesday.

Her next column will be May 16.

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