HOPE — An island is a special place with a romantic mystique, but there are many logistics involved in living on one. Less than a mile of water separates Warren Island from the mainland, but it is enough to prevent traditional fire engines from responding. For years residents and property owners on Warren Island have been concerned about a fire on the island, especially a forest fire, but their only line of defense was vigilance and hope.
Enter the Sam Owen Fire District. When the islanders learned that the Sam Owen Fire District had acquired a fireboat to increase access and water supply to better serve their district, they moved quickly. Eager to have fire protection for the island, they worked to gather enough signatures to petition the fire district for annexation.
Annexation into Sam Owen Fire District was overwhelmingly supported by Warren Island property owners and the drive was successful. The petition was delivered to the fire district commissioners on Nov. 17, 2016. After a public hearing later that month, the board of fire commissioners for the Sam Owen approved it unanimously. County Commissioners approved the annexation petition in December and the State of Idaho finalized it in January 2017.
A fireboat is essentially a portable fire hydrant with its own pump. Because it draws water directly from the Lake Pend Oreille, it has a nearly unlimited source of water available. There is no set up time so firefighters can immediately begin putting water on the fire upon arrival. With a range of 200 feet and a pumping capacity of 750 gallons per minute, the fireboat can attack any fire on the perimeter of the Warren Island, which is where the structures are located. The fire district will keep the vessel moored year round and estimates a 15 minute response time.
Sam Owen Fire Department will employ a drone to locate a fire quickly and accurately, which will ensure a faster response and attack on any fire on the island. The drone will be launched from the boat basin in Hope directly across from the island. It will be operated by designated trained firefighters who are licensed by the state. With a range of 2.5 miles and a speed of 55 miles per hour, the drone can dramatically speed up locating fires and hot spots. Using state of the art technology, the drone can pinpoint a fire and instantly transmit that information to the fire department, thus saving valuable time and resources and dramatically improving fire fighting ability.
As a designated first responder for the Idaho Department of Lands, the Sam Owen Fire Department personnel spend many hours training in fire suppression on undeveloped, forested lands. This training and experience will serve the people of Warren Island well should a fire break out in the forests of the interior island, which lack a water supply or hydrant system. District commissioners are considering options to supply water to the interior of the island, but well-trained, dedicated firefighters are always the first and best line of defense.
A shared love of the island was the key to accomplishing the annexation so quickly. And the people of Warren Island agree: the island is a very special place that they want to protect now and for the future.
Pat Bistline, whose family has owned property on Warren Island since the late 1950s, puts it this way: “The islands (Warren, Pearl and Cottage) are so iconic to the area that it would be everyone’s loss were a fire to destroy any of them. Certainly, Warren Island is owned by individuals, but their beauty belongs to everyone. It would be a loss to the entire area. Without the forests on the island, what do you have? Structures can be rebuilt but a forest fire would be devastating and take decades to recover. Houses come and go; the land remains. An uncontrolled forest fire would turn a beautiful island into an outcropping of rocks and charred debris.”
Eileen Klatt is a public information officer for the Sam Owen Fire District and a summer resident on Warren Island.