COTTAGE GROVE – With the exorbitant price tag dangling off a single sheet of lumber, South Lane Fire District won’t be building its new Creswell fire station anytime soon.

The Creswell Station 203 has outgrown the space, and it’s been a “top priority” for District staff for years. It’s located between City Hall and the Community Center on South 1st Street. 

The new station would be built at the current location of the city-owned community center, effectively swapping ownership of the two parcels between the City of Creswell and the fire district. While the current station is around 7,000 square feet, the new station is proposed at 17,000 square feet, fire chief John Wooten said in a 2020 interview. 

The new station would be listed as a bond measure that would also include retrofits for the Cottage Grove station, where Thursday’s first in-person fire board meeting was held on July 15. 

But because the cost of lumber has skyrocketed 284% in the past year and a half, Wooten said, “We could pass the bond but we probably wouldn’t even start construction on it until the price of lumber came down 100%.” 

Wooten said the cost of lumber is expected to continue to rise for another year before it restablizes. He said the Lebanon Fire District has stopped construction of its new station, and SLFD “would do the same. We could put the bond out there and start saving money, or self-bond, but I would not engage in any construction project right now. We were looking at $350 or $400 per square foot two years ago, and now we’re looking at $800 to $900 per square foot” for the new Creswell fire station. 

Creswell’s need for a new station has been a topic since the merger of Creswell Fire and SLCF&R more than a decade ago. The current station has failed a seismic study and the building would likely fall if and when an earthquake strikes, Wooten said. A committee advisory board in 2016 considered a few locations, and ultimately decided on the community center location. The new fire station would mean the community center would be demolished, and there is no plan for a replacement community center.

Wooten said South Lane County is “prime” for a “really bad fire season” this summer. The District in recent weeks has had five staff deployed to fires across the state, including to the Grandview, Jack Creek and Bootleg fires, and he said that a lot of staff have been working overtime. “Expect in the coming months to see the overtime budget be pretty inflated” due to fire deployments, he said. Chiefs Justin Biard and Joe Raade returned from deployment last week, and while the District is fully-staffed, it still may not be enough for the fire season. 

Gov. Brown released a statement Monday: “There are nine large fires blazing across Oregon – including the largest fire in the country. Let me be clear: The climate crisis has made the fire season in Oregon more prevalent and more dangerous, and we must work together to maximize our resources and protect our communities.” 

Said Wooten: “This year, the call volume appears to be through the roof. We’ve had several shifts where in the 48-hour period, (the District has) run 50 calls. We’re seeing a call volume right now that could put us well over 5,000 calls for the year. We’re not really staffed for that … If I was to go back and do it again I would probably put three seasonal positions in the budget, which I may do next year.”

The District, which includes Creswell and Cottage Grove, is in High Risk, but Wooten said he expects to bump it up to Extreme Risk later this week. 

As the fire chief, Wooten has the authority to set the fire levels for the district. 

The District’s delivery of its new brush fire truck has been delayed until the fall due to the production delays, material availability and a lack of employees, Wooten said. It was initially anticipated by June. 

It will take the District 15 months to two years in order to get new vehicles, Wooten said. The District is also in line for a new medic unit and two new staff vehicles that were supposed to arrive last year. 

In other business, division chief Aaron Smith said that CERT, the Community Emergency Response Team, has begun meeting in-person again, with up to 20 active members in the teen and adult teams. The group meets every other month on the 10th at the fire station in Cottage Grove at 6:30 p.m. 

The next fire board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 16.