Room by room, the Rod Kush mansion near Gretna -- once Sarpy County’s most palatial home -- will fill with smoke, flames and then firefighters.

The five bedrooms. The 10 bathrooms. The gym. The sauna. The half basketball court with the 20-foot ceiling.

“And when you get all done, you light it all on fire,” Gretna Fire Chief Rod Buethe said.

His 48-person department has torched old homes for training before, but nothing like this: More than 14,000 square feet, steel-beam construction worth $2.5 million in its prime. And just 15 years old.

Kush, who played defense for the Buffalo Bills and grew a small furniture empire, built the mansion on 35 acres along U.S. 6 in 1997. He added a 1,000-square-foot storage building, a caretaker’s home and a three-hole golf course.

“At one time, it was considered the only mansion in Sarpy County,” Sarpy County Assessor Dan Pittman said.

It fell hard and fast.

Within a decade, Kush had closed most of his stores and sold the residential property for $1.6 million. The buyer gave it to Catholic Charities, which tried -- and failed -- to open a youth treatment center, then sold it to an Elkhorn developer two years ago for $612,000.

But decay had moved into the mansion. And vandals. The home is now so overrun with mold it would cost more to clean up than the property is worth, Pittman said.

His office deemed the structure worthless.

But not to Gretna’s 48 firefighters.

The owner needs the house removed to make room for his development. He approached the city. The mayor talked to the fire chief, who saw a 14,000-square-foot training ground.

“It’s a big house, so obviously there’s an opportunity for a lot of people to have a lot of training,” Buethe said.

Firefighters will burn it room by room, dragging in wooden pallets and bunches of straw, lighting them up and letting them burn.

“We’ll have firefighters go in and attack it. We’ll keep repeating the same thing with other firefighters and other techniques.”

When they’re done inside, they’ll light fires -- and practice fighting those -- on its exterior.

The chief hasn’t yet set the burn date. He’s waiting for rain, or even snow.

“There’s a burning ban in place, and we’re not going to go be the exception to it by starting a fire.”

Reach Peter Salter at 402-473-7254 or


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