Guest Column

A community that’s feeling the heat upriver

A little over 3 years ago I moved up the Row River from the town of Cottage Grove. With my attention on other matters regarding a shift to country living, I neglected to pay attention to the detail of fire response in the area. Out of ignorance, I assumed that South Lane Fire had a substation out here or Umpqua National Forest would surely have a fire station. I also assumed, from my lack of research, that the citizens of this community were paying a fire tax.

I learned during my first winter in Dorena that I had sadly taken for granted fire response available along the Row River. The former owner of my home had apparently installed a pellet stove incorrectly before selling me the property. One day while I was home alone a chimney fire erupted, quickly filling my entire home with thick smoke. I was unable to put it out on my own and called 911. I was asked if I had fire insurance through South Lane Fire. This was not the response I had expected. I was informed that South Lane would come to my home as soon as possible if I was willing to pay them for their service. Of course I said yes. A supportive, skillful crew arrived after 25 minutes of the fire burning. I was informed it could have burnt my house down if I was not home. I purchased fire insurance that day, but could not help but continue to ponder the thought that our nearest fire station was so far from such a large community upriver.

The Row River Valley has been identified as being at “high and extreme risk” for fire as well as being in the wildland-urban interface. South Lane Fire district does a great job in responding when they can, but their fire station is too far away to respond in a timely manner. A fire in the forest here would likely burn the entire community, like we saw in the Holiday Farm Fire in September of 2020. Community members have been working to provide effective, local fire protection in our area, but the process is complicated and is too expensive without outside funding.

I came to believe long ago that a citizen of a community is not entitled to complain unless they are willing to do something to create change. Recently I was delighted to meet a small group of people who are interested in creating a comprehensive, sustainable response to supporting our community in protecting our properties from fire. Some of this group had been already involved in the effort of making individual fire trailers for private residences. Our group includes two retired businessmen, an active businessman, a retired school teacher, an active school teacher, and myself, a clinical social worker. We all own property along the Row River corridor.

Many of you reading this may not realize that fire protection for us “upriver” ends around the 7-mile marker, leaving hundreds of residents unprotected from fire between this area and Brice Creek. We are now in the process of creating a detailed map of properties which are currently unprotected and exploring the legislative process of either collaborating with South Lane Fire to build a substation upriver or establishing our own Row River Valley Fire District. We have many examples of rural fire districts in the County – including McKenzie, Lorane, Green River. 

With identified challenges and expenses in mind, our group of community members have enlisted the help of our elected officials.  Lane County Commissioner Heather Buch and South Lane Fire District Chief Wooten have both been wonderfully supportive.  Also, Senator Prozanski and Representative Hayden have asked the Oregon State Legislature to approve funding in the amount of $80,000 to help start a fire district for the Row River Valley.  The legislature meets next week. We will watch their progress and hope our representatives are successful.

We have much work ahead of us, but we are all committed to the well-being and protection of the community that we love.

Row River Valley Fire Exploratory Committee: Jennifer Ferraez, Scott Byler, Walt Bernard, Reta Cochrane, John Kirk, and Becky McCoy