The smoke was dense but not dangerous.
It was, however, thick enough to give volunteer firefighters the opportunity to hone their skills in a controlled environment.
Earlier this month, volunteers from Quarryville and Bart Township fire companies used the vacant house in Colerain Township to practice entering a smoke-filled home, stretching hoselines that would be used to extinguish a real fire and search the rooms for trapped 'victims'.
"A lot of the younger firefighters get the feel of going into a real house and it doesn't matter if we damage it a bit," said Jamie Welk, Quarryville's deputy fire chief. "The younger guys have been talking about how beneficial it is. The younger members get used to working in masks [self-contained breathing apparatus]."
About 25 of Quarryville's volunteers participated in each evening's drills.
"We had a mix of experience levels," said Quarryville Fire Company president Jim Herr. "We had people with close to 50 years' experience and guys with less than a year in the service. Everybody engaged and information was passed back and forth. The younger guys really contributed because we always learn something when people ask questions."
"It also gets us back to the basics - what we need to know to go into a house that's on fire and put out a room and contents fire," Welk added.
Finding the fire or the victim in dense smoke is tough, the officers said.
"We use flashlights and tics [thermal imaging cameras] to find the fire or the victim," Herr said. Even with that technology, firefighters need to be able to function when smoke makes it difficult or impossible to see.
The smoke came from a generator that produces thick, non-toxic white smoke. Owned by the Bart firefighters, it is used by both companies.
Other than the absence of fire, the drills also have one other unrealistic element.
"It's never realistic to search an empty building. The furniture will let us know what room we're in. If we can feel a couch, we're usually in a living room," Herr said. "This way, we practice by following the walls so we don't get lost in the smoke."
While the generated smoke helps provide a realistic environment, the firefighters don't have heat and flames to cope with.
State regulations don't allow fire companies to burn vacant buildings for practice.
"We could probably do some small fires and extinguish them," Herr said, "but we can't burn down a standing structure."
The firefighters were using a house that will be demolished early this month.
The donations frequently come via volunteer Matt Vickers, who works for R. Work Excavating.
"People contact us about demolishing buildings and I ask if the fire company can use the house for training before we tear it down," Vickers said. "Sometimes, they agree."
The recent training drills came just that way.
The building is owned by the Houghton family, who agreed the firefighters could use the house on Colerain Township's Sproul Rd. for training. Because the owners agreed to postpone the demolition, firefighters from both companies were able to hold several drills at the house.
"We [the two fire companies] work together a lot and this helps our interdepartmental working," Welk said.