Row River Fire Response receives support from state and local colleagues

Sentinel ArticleBy: Gerald Santana for The Sentinel

Updated: 17 hours ago / Posted Jun 1, 2023

June 2 – The Oregon State Fire Marshal recently awarded the Row River valley community with a $249,540 grant for community wildfire risk reduction. Posted on the Row River Fire Response Facebook page, the grant’s goal is to lower the risk of wildfires affecting the residences in the Row River Valley neighborhood.

“After a house fire in winter 2022, one of our Board members, Scott Byler, galvanized a group of our community to begin working towards a real solution to our fire risk.” said Walt Bernard, President of Row River Fire Response.

Bernard acknowledged that since then, the RRFR committee has increasingly looked to South Lane County Fire & Rescue’s Fire Chief, John Wooten and South Lane County Fire & Rescue’s advice and strategies as the process to become a 501c3 progressed.

Bernard summarized, “The relationship [within the committee] is characteristic of SLCFR ethos, as is of all fire districts in Lane County and beyond–if you ask for help and are willing to make the commitment to the work, (it is not easy to form a fire district), the help will be forthcoming.”

As anticipation to form an agency began, the rural volunteer firefighters faced hurdles to reaching official status as a fire agency, reported by The Sentinel’s Damien Sherwood’s two-part article, “Dorena’s Dilemma” in March 2022. Bernard recalled the story, “Chief Wooten said essentially, ‘if our community was willing to form an organization and do the work, SLCFR would be there to help make the district happen.”

A few months later Chief Wooten and Bernard began discussions routinely, which have now led to a partnership that will support and protect the Row River community until a Special District is approved. “Our community was very excited when we announced this news a few weeks ago. We are all grateful to SLCFR, Chief Wooten, and the SLCFR Board for offering this amazing opportunity.” said Bernard.

The grant will be used for active fuel reduction strategies surrounding residential buildings as well as community and school-based fire safety education.

Wooten asked the SLCFR Board at a recent meeting to approve a resolution authorizing the RRFR as a temporary auxiliary volunteer Corp, while they work on getting the ballot measure approved for the creation of a fire district under ORS Chapter 478. “The resolution authorizes us [SLCFR] to provide training, certification, equipment, and other support to RFRR for a period of two years,” said Wooten.

Wooten continued, “This is a public-private partnership with their 501c3 non-profit association. As they gain financial capability through grants and other resources, they will reimburse SLCFR. Their Board will continue to function as required by law, but their response operations will be temporarily under our control to assure they are ready to stand alone once they form a fire district.”

And according to Wooten, “the risk of catastrophic fire in the Row River drainage is extremely high so part of this partnership is to help put a force in place that can rapidly make an initial attack and help prevent a potential conflagration. It is to everyone’s benefit to have structured fire protection in that area.”

The formation of a Special Rural Fire Protection District is a top priority between the two agencies. Bernard also notes the importance of the temporary auxiliary unit of SLCFR, providing service until the Special District is formed, in combination with the Oregon State Fire Marshal grant as a way to engage with SLCFR, LC Emergency Management, and other organizations to create planned evacuation routes and safe spaces in the event of a fire disaster conflagration.

“We currently offer fire protection agreements and given the 50 plus contracts we have in that unprotected area, the formation of a fire district is the logical next step.” Wooten stated. “Once they get the fire district formed it will be part of the countywide mutual aid agreement and we will become mutual aid partners. We want people to understand this is a temporary arrangement to help RFRR get the fire district formed.”

“When we respond to that area we will still bill for suppression if the property is not under a suppression agreement. We want their effort to be successful and given the threat of fire we feel this temporary partnership is a good thing. We will continue meeting our service level demands in our District as we engage this partnership.” Wooten concluded.

Row River Fire Response is now in need of volunteers to train and on May 5, they had their first community volunteer firefighter meeting. The meeting will be held again Sunday, June 4 at 3 p.m. at Dorena Church for those who were unable to attend the first meeting or who would like to attend a second time.

An online video that was shared May 19 shows a new engine with a pump in action. Bernard said in the Facebook post, “This will be a great engine for our community, just in time for fire season. Thanks to Scappoose Fire for gifting this amazing engine!” Bernard and Lt. Anderson of Scappoose Fire tested the new RRFR engine in the video with Lt. Anderson going over the truck’s features.

Later that day, RRFR posted an additional picture with a message stating that South Lane Fire and Rescue had voted unanimously to form a temporary auxiliary Fire District in conjunction with RRFR. “We wish to thank Chief Wooten and the SLFR board! This includes training for firefighter volunteers before the 2023 fire season, and assistance with equipment!” said Bernard.

Additionally, on May 20, Bernard and Lorane Assistant Chief Jim Bailor can be seen putting on some of the fire-resistant gear for wildland firefighters that Lorane Fire District provided to the Row River Fire Response on Friday. A total of ten sets of pants, shirts, and jackets were donated. The post read, “Our community is very lucky to have such great mentors looking out for our efforts. Thanks Tom, Jim and the Lorane Fire District Board and volunteers!”

Those interested in learning more about becoming a volunteer fire responder or in providing auxiliary support are invited to a secondary meeting, which will give them background and introduction information. RRFR next volunteer fire responder orientation meeting is June 4, 3 p.m. at the Dorena Church, 37923 Row River Rd Dorena, Ore.

For more information, please attend or contact To subscribe to their newsletter or donate to support operations, visit their Website at: https://rowrivervalley.

Residents take action to protect Row River community

March 17 – While the residents of the Holiday Farm Fire tragedy are still picking up the pieces three years later, other unincorporated rural communities are frantically taking steps to prepare for fire disasters.  

Located in South Lane County in the Cascade Foothills, the Row River Valley community is on this mission. They have galvanized to take their own fire protection measures, and now have a dedicated 501c3 non-profit to address this issue. 

Walt Bernard, a resident of the Row River Valley, and president of Row River Fire Response explains:   

“Our community is identified as one of the highest risk communities for fire according to analysis of state and county resources. We are a long 30-minute drive from the nearest Fire and EMS services in Cottage Grove. With 7-10 significant fires in our valley every year, any of these fires could become a major fire-storm disaster like the Holiday Fire. The formation of an organized fire, emergency, and disaster service for, and by our community is an utmost priority.”  

The Dorena School in the South Lane School District is one of two schools in the valley. The potential danger school children face is exemplified by Row River Valley resident and retired Dorena School teacher Reta Cochrane, they said: 

“Back in 2014, when I was teaching, a student reported a fire in the school bathroom. I immediately ran there to find the wastebasket a blaze, and the fire had extended up the wall to the ceiling. The walls of the bathroom, a plastic sheeting, created a thick, black, acrid smoke that filled the room.” 

Cochrane continued, “I grabbed a fire extinguisher, instructed officials to evacuate and call 9-1-1, then alone, I struggled to extinguish the fire. I had difficulty breathing, and difficulty using the extinguisher. My eyes and lungs burned. Running back outside to catch my breath, I returned again and again until the fire was extinguished. I knew it was up to me because no one else would be there in time. Thankfully, all of the 90 school children and teachers were safe.”   

Row River Fire Response (RRFR) was created to make the community safe from fire danger and other emergencies.  The immediate goals of the Row River Fire Response organization are fourfold, highlighted by Walt Bernard: 

  • Creation of a Special Rural Fire Protection District: owned, operated, and directed by our Row River Fire District Community.  
  • Secure stop-gap funding for fire and EMS service operations until a Special District can be formed.  
  • Pursue grant funding for no-cost fire prevention measures, education, and safety projects within our community, and for critical infrastructure such as fire buildings and fire engines.  
  • Create defined and accessible Evacuation Routes and Safe Space rendezvous locations in the event of a major disaster.          

The seven-member Board, Committee members, and volunteers have spent hundreds of hours interviewing and visiting many fire departments both in Lane County and beyond. They have discovered that successful small community volunteer Fire/EMS departments are developed through a united vision. One such department is Lorane Rural Fire Protection. 

A Pattern of Excellence: Lorane Rural Fire Protection District  

Lorane Rural Fire Protection District was once without fire service, just as many rural communities are today. They started with a small group of individuals with homemade equipment, helping each other and their neighbors.   

Eventually, Lorane formed a 501c3 nonprofit and secured 911 communication, radios, protective equipment, insurance, and engines for their fledgling department. Today, as a special rural fire district, Lorane Fire Protection has a fully equipped department with 2 engines, a water tender, and multiple other firefighting rigs, in a beautiful firehouse all owned and managed by, and for, their own community.    

Bernard detailed what Row River Fire Response has learned from Lorane Fire, 

“We can see that the best path to success is to follow the example of Lorane Fire. Chief Tom Sword and Assistant Chief Jim Bailor have helped us tremendously. We have also benefited greatly from the knowledge and mentorship of John Wooten (South Lane Fire and Rescue), Chad Minter (Coburg Fire/ Lane Fire Defense Board), John Flannigan and Chris Cline (South Cascade ODF), Cassandra Ulven (Division Chief, Tualatin Fire).”  

Bernard also thanked those that help support unincorporated communities looking for ways to combat the growing fire threat to their rural Oregon community.  

“Creating a Special Fire District is a monumental undertaking and depends on the help and participation of your community, county, legislative, and state representatives. We are grateful for the support we have received from the following individuals and organizations who have joined our mission for a safe Row River Community:  Lane County, and our district representative, Commissioner Heather Buch, our State Representative Charlie Conrad, Senator Cedric Hayden, Senator Floyd Prozanski, Representative Paul Holvey, Lane County Administration, Oregon State Fire Marshal, the Special District Association of Oregon, and many others. “     

To stay informed on the progress of the Row River Fire Response, visit or To view Lane County Fire Protection Map source information:  And please make sure to thank your local fire department for keeping you safe.   

Row River Fire: ‘A lot of devastation; some of these houses were just ashes’

September 5, 2018

COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. — Three Cottage Grove homes were destroyed Wednesday night, reduced to ashes in the fast-moving Row River Fire.

The 12-acre blaze started near Dorena school.

Crews continued mop-up operations Wednesday night after the fire tore through seven structures – three homes and four out-buildings.

The families in each home are OK.

Opinion: Feeling the Heat Upriver

September 12, 2022 – 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 and 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 in this group had already been involved in the effort of making individual fire trailers for private residences. Our group includes two retired businessmen, an active businessman, a retired schoolteacher, an active schoolteacher, and me, 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. If you wish to learn more or get involved in this effort, please contact our Chairperson, Scott Byler:

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