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.   

Video News