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A thick wispy gray smoke poured out of the former Pier One Imports building in Valencia Tuesday afternoon.

Five large, red fire engines with sirens ablaze screamed down Magic Mountain Parkway, joining two ladder trucks and a paramedic rig — all meeting in the corner parking lot near the Target.

Crews wasted no time sizing up the blaze inside the building and sprinted to the rear of the heavy duty trucks, yanking hose lines off the shiny chrome deck shelves.

Hitomi Pino, her son Louie and daughter Ella stand outside the training site near the corner of Magic Mountain and McBean parkways on April 4, 2017. (Austin Dave/The Signal)

Awestruck passersby removed their hands from shopping carts and covered their mouths, apparently shocked by the sight of the operation underway outside the retail shops.

Horns blared as angry motorists attempted to alert drivers ahead to the green traffic signal which had changed about 20 seconds earlier.

The already deafening roar of the slew of firefighting apparatuses grew louder as engineers flipped switches on pumps in an effort to battle back the flames.

Aerial ladders sliced through thick smoke as operators from quint No. 104 and truck company No. 126 prepared to send firefighters to cut holes in the the roof to conduct a procedure commonly used to knock down a blaze.

“We need to ventilate the building and get the smoke out,” said Battalion Chief Chris Rash of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Firefighters conducting a venting procedure which involves clearing tiles off the roof. (Austin Dave/The Signal)

As crews inside the structure worked to locate and fight the blaze, firefighters on the roof used chainsaws to cut holes in the ceiling.

“When they get to the bulk of the fire, they open the roof and take the heat and smoke out so they can see what they are doing,” Rash said.

While helpful, the plan leaves crews to mitigate a problem — when they cut a hole, they’re introducing oxygen and in a way adding fuel to the fire.

“We want to keep the fire small in size and nature,” Rash said.

That wouldn’t be too difficult because there were no flames.

For witnesses, there was a plot twist. For the shopper hoping to get a glimpse of an intense firefight, it was all smoke and mirrors, a rouse. There was, in fact, no fire to be found.

“The owner of this property is getting ready to demo the building to build new commercial property,” Rash said.

In what was an opportunity to get a good head start on a type of fire independent of droughts and the weather, Rash and his team used smoke machines to simulate a fire inside a commercial building.

“It’s not everyday you get an opportunity to train and perform real life scenarios,” the chief said.

“Practicing our firefighting tactics and strategy makes us better. We try to learn from our mistakes so we don’t have mistakes.”

Firefighters extinguish the flames of an apartment fire that broke out shortly after 6 p.m. on March 27, 2017 near the 28900 block of Dune Lane in the Sand Canyon area. (Austin Dave/The Signal)

Santa Clarita sees its fair share of what the fire department defines as a structure fire. On March 27, an apartment building caught fire.

Within minutes, the blaze quickly spread between two floors and flames danced from windows as residents looked on.

But firefighters didn’t miss a beat. They had the flames under their control within 20 minutes and spared the other six units.

Not jaded by the frequent number of calls for a structure fire response that end in what’s commonly referred to as “food on the stove,” the crews sharpened their skillsets throughout the day Tuesday.

“Fires in houses and commercial buildings happen frequently, but not as frequently as they did back in the day,” Rash said.

The chief responsible for nine fire stations and their resources in the Santa Clarita Valley’s west side said the decrease in house fires is mostly due to preventative measures taken by local residents.

“Taking an ounce of prevention will save you a headache down the road,” Rash said.

The fireman cautions homeowners to not leave burning candles unattended and to keep an eye on food as it cooks.

“More frequently than not, we go into people’s houses that are charged with smoke and people think their house is on fire,” he said. “It’s actually a pot of food that’s cooking and it’s burning on the stove.”

Just like anything, business owners and residents alike need to be vigilant and check their smoke and carbon monoxide detectors too, the chief added.

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Austin Dave
Austin Dave is an award-winning multimedia journalist. He heads The Signal's video news operations while reporting on the Santa Clarita Valley's most impacting topics.
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