January 1, 1995 in City

House In ‘Unprotected Area’ Allowed To Burn Calls To 911 Go Unheeded Because Home Was Not Within Fire District; Neighbors ‘Shocked,’ ‘Frustrated’

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Tags:ethics

A house in the Seven Mile area burned to the ground late Friday as frantic neighbors called 911 only to be told no one would be coming to help them.

No one was hurt, but the home was a total loss, residents said. Their faith in local government is about gone, too, they added.

“I know of at least five people who called 911 and were denied assistance,” said Patricia Hammond, who lives near the destroyed home. “This time, they didn’t want to be bothered.”

A fire official explained Saturday that the home was not within a fire protection district and that nothing could be done.

The house was located in a sparselypopulated area along the Spokane River west of the Spokane city limits.

“That area’s unprotected,” said Jim Graue, operations chief for Fire District 9, the district nearest the neighborhood. “There is no fire district out there.”

Neighbors first saw flames about 11 p.m. Friday coming from the home of Jess Blackwell, Hammond said.

The woman said she called 911 to report the blaze, thinking that fire crews would be dispatched to fight it.

She was wrong.

A 911 operator told her the home was located in Stevens County and wanted to transfer her call there, Hammond said.

Hammond said she explained that her neighborhood is in Spokane County, and the operator then told her that no fire district protected that area.

Linda Thrash, who also lives nearby, said a neighbor called her about the fire just after 11 p.m.

“The telephone call I got was, ‘There’s a fire, and no one is coming,”’ Thrash said. “I was shocked. I figured there must be some mistake.”

Thrash said she jumped in her car and drove to the home to see if she could help.

“When I arrived, just the garage of the home was on fire,” she said. “I honestly, truly, thought there was some mistake, and I expected to hear units from the fire department coming. In my opinion, that home, or at least the majority of it, could have been saved.”

No one was home at the time of the blaze. Neighbors rescued the Blackwell family dog from the house before it was destroyed, Thrash said.

They also worked with shovels to keep the fire from spreading to a nearby barn and timber, but there wasn’t anything they could do to save the house, which was recently appraised at more than $300,000, she said.

“It was a very grand, beautiful, beautiful home,” she said. “There was a swimming pool in the backyard, nicely done landscaping and all.”

Blackwell could not be reached for comment. Neighbors said he was staying with relatives in the area and that his wife and children were out of town.

Both Hammond and Thrash said they couldn’t believe their calls to 911 brought no help.

“It’s left us all very frustrated,” Hammond said.

District 9’s Graue said that’s part of the price of living in the country with no fire protection.

Most fire districts, including District 9, do not respond to unprotected areas because of the liability, Graue said.

If he sent crews to a fire outside the district and then had an emergency inside the district that he couldn’t handle, he’d be in big trouble, he said. The people in his district have purchased their protection by paying fire levies, he said.

“The people in Fire District 9 support us, and we support them,” Graue said. “I’m not going across the river to the people who aren’t in the deal.”

It’s the property owner’s responsibility to find out if his land is within a fire protection district, Graue said.

“If you’re going to buy in an unincorporated area, it’s a good idea to see where your services are going to come from - your police, your fire, your ambulance,” he said. “If you find out you’re not protected, there’s going to be a risk involved.”


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