Sam Knapper, a resident of the Wenatchee Rescue Mission on South Wenatchee Avenue, stokes a wood furnace Monday, used to heat the building, over 25,000 square feet of rooms to house and shelter up to 90 people. The furnace, the only one of its kind in the area, is used 24-hours-a-day through the winter. Residents put wood in every two hours to keep the shelter at just above 70-degrees.
WENATCHEE — Sam Knapper grabs a large chunk of wood from a stack as tall as him and throws it deep inside a 15-foot-long chamber of fire. Every two hours, four logs are fed into the furnace that heats over 25,000 square feet of rooms housing up to 90 fellow residents at the Wenatchee Rescue Mission on South Wenatchee Avenue.
It’s a scene that plays out 24 hours a day, all winter long.
Wood is the only source of warmth for the large, two-story lodge holding bedrooms, kitchen, dining and living rooms. It’s been this way since the mission was built in 1994 in a small valley east of Lincoln Park.
The original founder of the mission, Charles Hutchins, had a knack for finding used fixtures for free or for a bargain and the furnace is one of them he procured. Current director Scott Johnson is unaware where it came from.
With this winter approaching, Johnson had a problem with the furnace that had been getting worse for years. There was a leak in the burning chamber and its fan was blowing smoke into the lodge. It became so bad that over the years the walls were turning dark with soot.
Johnson said a new electric system would cost over $1 million. With just a few months before they needed heat, a local welder stepped in and rebuilt the large box where the wood burns and he sealed the leaks. They’ve had fresh air ever since.
There’s no temperature control on the system, just a thermometer in the building they keep an eye on. Knowing when to add wood and how much to add to the fire is an art form. “Over the years it’s been perfected,” Johnson said. “If you get a newbie in here, you can roast everyone out (of the lodge).”
The job goes to dependable residents who have experience. It’s one of the chores that are shared, with people signing up for a shift. The large, concrete-block room is warm with a metal chair in a corner for the person in charge to sit. The building is just north of the main lodge. Wood is stacked inside the blackened walls supplied from the many cords laying outside under tarps. Black, sooty cobwebs hang from the tall ceiling.
Every two hours, about four or five blocks of wood are tossed into the chamber depending on the type of wood. Some burn faster and hotter than others. Every three days the fire is put out and the ash is scooped and dumped. The fire is restarted to get the lodge back to temperature.
Johnson said Guys Tree Service supplies the wood in the form of logs. Other wood is provided by individual donors. Volunteers saw the wood into blocks and a log splitter is used to break them into usable sizes. It’s a year around effort to get enough wood for the winter.
Last year, their principal supplier at the time stopped bringing logs and before winter was over they ran out and had to buy some. Johnson thinks it was the first time they have ever had to do that.
When a burn ban goes on in the Wenatchee Valley, Johnson said they are exempt because their wood furnace is their only source of heat. “If we couldn’t burn wood, it gets cold in there fast,” he said.
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