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MailTribune.com
  • House lost, man bemoans fire response

    Man watches his home burn down, says crews should have been there
  • GOLD HILL — Archie Powers wondered why firefighters from White City and Central Point took 12 minutes to get to his burning home on Blackwell Road when there's a fire station just a few miles away in Gold Hill.
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  • GOLD HILL — Archie Powers wondered why firefighters from White City and Central Point took 12 minutes to get to his burning home on Blackwell Road when there's a fire station just a few miles away in Gold Hill.
    For Powers, that 12 minutes was an eternity.
    "I mean, (expletive) there's a fire station just up the road in Gold Hill, and I had to stand here and just watch it all burn down," Powers said. "I don't know why there wasn't someone here to help me out."
    Powers lost his home, his garage — which held his prized 1978 Chevy El Camino — his lawnmower, two all-terrain vehicles and maybe some pets.
    What Powers didn't realize is Jackson County Fire District No. 3's Gold Hill station is staffed by volunteers.
    However, there were no volunteers on shift Saturday afternoon, according to District 3 Battalion Chief Rod Edwards. "We didn't have any volunteers available today," Edwards said.
    There is no requirement that the station be staffed by volunteer firefighters, Edwards said.
    Powers' day went south at around 3:45 p.m. when a smoker near his garage somehow caught the structure on fire.
    "I was smoking chicken, and me and my girlfriend were just getting ready to sit down to eat when all hell broke loose," Powers said.
    It didn't take the flames long to engulf the garage and jump to the nearby one-story home.
    Powers called 9-1-1 and figured that firefighters would be dispatched from Gold Hill. Powers' home sits at the intersection of Blackwell Road and Maple Lane just outside Gold Hill.
    By the time District 3 engines arrived from Central Point and White City, the garage was fully involved and much of the house was ablaze, Edwards said.
    "We could see the house was 80 percent involved when we arrived," Edwards said. "The wind was absolutely a factor today."
    The steady wind forced District 3 to call in Oregon Department of Forestry crews to monitor the large fields surrounding the property.
    "A hot ember can blow one-quarter to one-half a mile in these conditions and start a wildfire," Edwards said. "Fortunately, we didn't have any of those."
    A neighboring home about 50 feet away from Powers' residence also was a concern.
    Powers was emotional as he stood in his driveway and watched crews hose down the remains of the home he bought with cash after he retired from Timber Products.
    "This was my retirement," he said. "It's all gone."
    He was in the process of buying homeowners' insurance when the fire sparked.
    "I had a guy quoting me estimates and everything," Powers said.
    He had nothing but praise for the District 3 firefighters that rushed to his home from neighboring towns.
    "Man, these guys from White City and Central Point did a helluva job, and I can't thank them enough," Powers said. "I just wished to hell that we had people in that station in Gold Hill."
    Edwards said rural areas in the Gold Hill area often have longer response times because they are far away from the urban centers of White City and Central Point.
    The vast majority of District 3's calls occur in these urban centers, according to the agency's website.
    The agency's 2012 quarterly report says that approximately 70 percent off all the calls are in urban centers.
    Edwards said rural areas that are on the edge of the district also present challenges such as a lack of fire hydrants. There are no hydrants near Powers' house.
    "When we come to fight a fire in this area, we have to bring our own water," Edwards said.
    He added that one of the district's plans in the coming months is to improve the volunteer program. District 3 has appointed a battalion chief who will oversee the volunteer program and attempt to ensure that volunteers are on hand on a regular basis, Edwards said.
    Volunteers from the Gold Hill station did report to Powers' home after the other engines from White City and Central Point arrived, Edwards said.
    "I'd like to have that Gold Hill station staffed," Powers said. "But I understand that it's volunteers."
    Meanwhile, Powers said he has friends to stay with in Grants Pass. He said he planned to stick around the ruins of his home for a while Saturday night, hoping he might salvage something.
    "Look at all this turmoil," he said.
    Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.
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