By CHRIS COLLINS
Of the Baker City Herald
With the memory of a fire that gutted a Bowen Valley home fresh in their minds, residents of the area are making a reinvigorated drive to establish a rural fire protection district.
Cal and Vickie (Foster) are our inspiration right now, said Dale Curtis, a neighbor who helped fight the fire that ravaged the familys home last October.
I remember Cal looking at me and saying, We cant get anything out here; the city wont come, Curtis said.
The Foster home, which sits about 2 miles outside the city limits off Beaver Creek Loop Road, is not covered by a fire protection district. For that reason, there was no response to Cal Fosters initial calls for help when he discovered his three-story log home burning.
When no one arrived 15 minutes after his first call for help, he called 911 again only to learn that there would be no fire department coming to his aid. Instead, the familys friends and neighbors helped extinguish the blaze.
The Fosters have spent the last eight months salvaging their home, built with logs taken from their ranch. They hope to be able to return to the house by the end of July, Cal said.
About 50 people attended a recent meeting to discuss formation of the Greater Bowen Valley Rural Fire Protection District. They hope to ensure that the next time theres a fire in the area, there will be a response, Curtis said. Chief petitioners are Foster, Phil Stone and Neta Howland.
The proposed district would serve residents living south of Baker City in Bowen Valley, Griffin Gulch, Auburn Valley, Beaver Creek, Stices Gulch and the Powder River Corridor area.
There are several steps that must be taken before the district is officially formed, according to Sarah Hildebrand, county counsel.
No vote to establish the district is required if signatures are collected from 100 percent of the landowners, she said.
Otherwise, signatures must be collected from 15 percent of the proposed districts electors, or 100 people, whichever is greater; or from 15 landowners or owners of 10 percent of the acreage, whichever is greater, she said. Still no vote would be required unless the Baker County Board of Commissioners received a petition from 15 percent of the landowners seeking an election.
Efforts continue to solicit more signatures, according to Bev White, who is helping with the drive.
Details of the petitions are being finalized and more signatures are being sought, she said. As of July 3, owners of 22,000 acres had signed, which is possibly enough to meet the requirements.
We want to make sure we have our is dotted and our ts crossed, she said.
More information is available by calling White at 523-3011; Curtis, 523-7169; or Foster 523-2204.
Representatives of State Farm, Country Companies, Clarke andamp; Clarke Insurance and Farmers Insurance Co. have explained that area residents could receive a reduction in fire insurance rates of up to 42 percent if the fire district is established.
The fire district would operate on a prescription basis of $150 per house per year, Curtis said. Property that does not include a house still would be charged the $150 rate.
Non-subscribers would be charged a rate of $15 per hour per man and $100 per hour per truck should the volunteers respond to a fire. The firefighters are required to respond to all fires within the district, Curtis said. Property owners can decline fire suppression efforts, but they still would be assessed a $300 minimum fee, he added.
The district already has been offered two fire trucks. The Baker Rural Fire Protection District has donated one truck and another will be donated by the Baker City Fire Department once the district is officially established, Foster said.
After board members are elected, the group will begin seeking grants to help fund fire stations and to secure surplus equipment, Curtis said.
The first station, which would include the meeting hall, is hoped to be built near the Oregon Department of Transportation scales on Highway 7, Curtis said. In order to get the 42-percent reduction in fire insurance rates, at least five other stations would be required to place equipment within five road miles of protected properties.
That final goal is about five years out, Curtis said. But the group hopes to have the first fire station built before winter, Foster added.
One thing organizers are confident of is that the effort to establish the fire protection district will not lose momentum the way a similar effort did about three years ago.
The memory of the Fosters October fire is burning too brightly in their memories.
Just knowing if you have a fire, somebody will show up is a strong motivator, Curtis said.