It was a festive atmosphere.
Neighbors and others gathered alongside the road in lawn chairs, coffee cups in hand. Onlookers drove from as far away as Freeland. Dog walkers paused to chat with others while their impatient canine friends pulled at their leashes. They were all ready for the show. And then the house caught on fire, and everything went to blazes.
It was supposed to be that way, of course. Saturday’s torching of an old home near Scatchet Head was planned as part of an effort to transform a 9.5-acre farm into a nature reserve.
The Whidbey Camano Land Trust is in the process of protecting a piece of South Whidbey history, the Hammons family farm in Clinton, for future generations.
It was the wish of Al Hammons that his property become a public park, and the land trust is in the process of making his final wish a reality.
The property, located at the intersection of Cultus Bay Road and Possession Road, offers sweeping and unobstructed views of Cultus Bay. The property includes gently sloping agricultural fields, as well as wetlands, a stream and a heritage orchard.
The farm also consists of several dilapidated buildings and a vacant main house.
Fire District 3 volunteers torched the old house in a practice burn on Saturday. The firefighters set several smaller fires in the house throughout the morning, sending smoke billowing out the windows and through the cracks between the old boards, before the home was finally burned completely to the ground about noon.
Neighbors were happy to see the old place come down. Several said the house had out lived its usefulness and they were looking forward to the site becoming a preserve for everyone to enjoy.
While neighbors and onlookers were thinking about the future plan for the site, volunteer firefighters were in the moment with one goal: to bring the old house down.
“These exercises are essential for training volunteer firefighters,” said Deputy Fire Chief Jon Beck.
The fire was the first step toward the site becoming a nature reserve.
Cyndi Fernandez, of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, said it will be gratifying to see Hammons’ dream fulfilled.
“The site will be used for passive recreation with some benches to enjoy the views, and a parking lot off to the side so parked cars don’t obstruct the views,” she said. An added bonus is the property adjacent to the farm is an isolated 40-acre state-owned forest that’s a vital wildlife habitat.
The Hammons’ property will provide trail access to this state land, Fernandez said.
“Al hoped his property would become a place where others could enjoy the quiet beauty and wildlife that gave him so much pleasure during his lifetime,” she said.
In 2006, the estate of Al Hammons donated the farm to the land trust. In accordance with Hammons’ final wishes, the property will become a protected area where people can enjoy views of Cultus Bay and wildlife in a peaceful setting.
In March, the other buildings will come down. One historical cabin, however, will remain standing.
Several dilapidated structures have to be removed to make the property safe for public use. A salvage store from Bellingham will deconstruct the other buildings on the site.
“The process combines machine demolition with hand-salvaging to recycle most of the building material,” Fernandez said.
Following the donation by the Hammons family, the land trust raised the $175,000 needed to secure and maintain the property. The land has a market value of $840,000.
Fernandez said they expect the property to be open to the public in July.
“We will have a celebration with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in early July,” she said.