Jan. 09--WHITE SWAN, Wash. -- The house was on fire, but despite repeated calls to 911, no firefighters ever arrived.
What started as a small kitchen fire smoldered and grew for more than 24 hours and eventually destroyed Connie Sutterlict's home in a rural area west of White Swan and outside any fire district boundaries.
"My niece called 911 and we got outside and waited for the fire department and nobody came," Sutterlict said Wednesday, the day after the house was destroyed.
"They wouldn't come up here, they said we were out of their jurisdiction."
While a lot of rural Lower Valley property lacks fire protection, there's no mechanism for letting people know that they are at risk, said Brian Vogel, chief of Yakima County Fire District 5, which operates a fire station in White Swan.
"They are under the impression that if you can call 911, someone will come help, but that's not how it is," Vogel said. "It's one of those things that as people move farther and farther out, they can't have the expectation that their public services follow them."
Sutterlict, who owned the single-story, three-bedroom home at 4301 Old Maid Canyon Road that was built in 1982, said she had no idea she didn't have access to firefighters. The home is about 10 miles outside White Swan, where she works as a custodian.
She wanted to warn others living in Medicine Valley about the problem.
"There are other people out here that need to know," Sutterlict said. "They need fire extinguishers and stuff because nobody is going to come."
The Red Cross is assisting her family while she tries to figure out how to file insurance paperwork without an official fire report.
Initially alerted to the fire by smoke alarms Monday afternoon, Sutterlict said family members threw water on the flames, unplugged the stove, and shut off the power before leaving the smoke-filled home.
Although no fire department arrived, a Yakama tribal police officer came with a fire extinguisher and attempted to put out the kitchen blaze.
The fire appeared out, but when relatives returned to the house Tuesday, Sutterlict said they found smoke in the attic and heard crackling noises in the walls.
They tried the White Swan fire station again Tuesday evening. No one came.
"So my house burned to the ground with everything in it," Sutterlict said. "It burnt all the way to the foundation."
Vogel said it's difficult for firefighters not to respond in such situations, but they have a duty to serve the communities that pay property taxes to support the firefighting services.
"You're between a rock and a hard place," Vogel said. "You have a responsibility to your taxpaying constituents to be ready and available if they need you."
About 10 years ago, Vogel said, the fire districts started to take boundaries seriously and no longer serve the "no man's land" outside their jurisdiction. This is only the second house fire since then they have been unable to respond to, he said.
In 2011, state Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, successfully sponsored legislation that allowed firefighters to respond to wildland fires in "no man's land" that threaten homes or property inside fire districts.
But the law doesn't apply to structure fires.
For really rural residents, good solutions are lacking. Vogel said they can only annex or contract with communities to provide services if they are close enough to an existing fire station to be accessed quickly.
For people who live in remote areas, the options are to protect themselves or form their own fire district with neighbors, he added.
Copyright 2014 - Yakima Herald-Republic, Wash.