With a number of serious wildfires blazing a trail across the West, the proposed new fire station for Burdoin Mountain may be in line for fast-tracking.
The proposed "satellite" fire station is geared to make firefighting vehicles and other equipment available on the mountain, thereby sharply reducing response time to fires in the area. Currently, fire trucks would come from Lyle or Snowden in the event of a fire on that part of Burdoin Mountain.
Because the area is within the National Scenic Area, approval of the U.S. Forest Service is required before the building can be constructed.
Fred Heany, chair of the Lower Burdoin Mountain Community Council, a longtime proponent of the project, hopes approval is granted soon.
"With the real change in natural resource management in our area, we're faced with a really disastrous fire situation," Heany said. "Since we don't have grazing any more, we're faced with an abundance of ground fuel sources, more than in the last 100 years. Always before, we've had grazing up there. It just takes one match or a cigarette and, poof! We saw last year how fast it moves."
However, Forest Service Area Manager Dan Harkenrider said his agency cannot make a decision until additional details are provided.
"It was sent back to the Lyle Rural Fire District for more information," Harkenrider said. "One safety issue came up, based on where they want to put the fire station. There is a sharp turn in the road with a short sight distance, and we asked how they would address that issue."
Harkenrider added that due to its location, the station would also require wood siding, not metal siding.
Paula Trosper, secretary for the Lyle Rural Fire District, said virtually all the issues identified by Harkenrider had been addressed.
"We have a road permit from the county, and have different options for the building's siding," she said.
"It really does seem to be moving forward, but it's a cumbersome process," Trosper added.
Trosper said her understanding was that before the end of August, the Columbia River Gorge Commission would sign off on the proposal. After that, it would go back to the Forest Service for a final federal review.
"It has to go through another round of approvals and reviews, but we're getting there," Trosper explained.
One of the issues that needed to be addressed was an agreement that the water tanker expected to be placed at the new station would be available to Forest Service firefighters in the event of an emergency.
"It's a mutual use agreement so the Forest Service would have access to the water and that it's not for exclusive use," Trosper said. "Of course, that's fine. It's just another `t' to cross and `i' to dot."
Another complication is coming from the Klickitat County Economic Development Authority (EDA). Although the county agreed to contribute $10,000 to building the new fire station, the community was given a deadline to use the funding.
That deadline has now been extended until Aug. 30.
"We were told initially by the Forest Service they felt the fire station could -- in all probability -- have been approved by June 30," Heany said. "Now we understand it's a minimum of six weeks off -- which leaves us in a position where we're one week beyond the EDA's extended deadline."
Heany said the money currently earmarked for the fire facility could go to an EDA-approved project in Glenwood if the deadline is missed.
Trosper said she hoped the EDA would grant another extension, provided progress continued to be made.
Harkenrider said there was a bit of irony in the current situation. On one hand, he wants his staff to expedite the fire station proposal because of the threat of fires in the area. But, to provide manpower to fight the many existing fires, much of Harkenrider's Hood River staff has been sent away.
"If they submit the required information in terms of our work, that project can be expedited," Harkenrider explained. "But as I say that, a lot of our resources are devoted to fires right now. If they provide the information, we're prepared to move it forward as fast as we can. This has just as much priority as ever, and maybe more so now. This fire [near The Dalles] is opening our eyes as to what could happen."
Heany pointed out that the fuel situation on the mountain was scary.
"There are 60-foot tall trees there, five feet apart," Heany noted. "There is ladder fuel from bottom to top."
Trosper said the hope is that the fire station would be ready before the 2003 fire season.
"Let's just hope we make it through this year unscathed," she added.