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Formation of Fire District 5

A major incentive for the formation of a fire district in western Walla Walla County was a fire in 1949. The fire burned enough of the Snake River Bridge to render it unusable, requiring replacement. It was said to have started from a vehicle dragging a burning mattress. Local people who responded reported that the highway department refused permission to tear up the wood decking to stop the progression of the fire to control it. The Loss of this bridge caused major hardship for the area residents, most of whom worked and shopped in the Tri-Cities. They moved cars to the Franklin county end of the NP Railroad Bridge by way of the Umatilla-Plymouth Ferry and walked across the bridge. Local people felt that a fire brigade might have been able to save the bridge. In 1952 they took the necessary steps to form a fire district, elected a board of commissioners, and passed an operations levy. They also passed a bond issue to finance apparatus and build a fire station. The fire district got official formation in 1953.

The first pumper and its equipment was furnished by Civil Defense. The County Planner laid out the district boundaries. The bank, which bought the bond wanted reassurance that there would be people to operate the district. During the summer of 1954, a sheet of wrapping paper asking for volunteers to sign up was posted on the wall of Galloway’s Market. The first station is now part of the Kraft Diesel Repair shop. The first piece of apparatus was a 1954 GMC with a 750 GPM pump and 750-gallon tank.

The District really got the ball rolling in 1954. The only irrigation was Columbia Irrigation Block 2 (Burbank Heights). Almost everything else outside of Burbank and Wallula was dry land wheat and winter sheep range. Old Wallula, Attalia, small irrigated farms along the lower Walla Walla River, and small holdings along the Columbia River were flooded out in 1954 by Lake Wallula. Overgrazing and abandoned farms from two defunct irrigation projects had reduced almost all vegetation in the district to cheatgrass and related desert vegetation. Wildland fires accounted for most of the fires. One big problem in fighting Wildland fires with the GMC was the light, dry sand in most of the district. The rig would pull onto the fire line, wet down a little fire and get stuck.

Everyone would grab shovels, put the fire out, then dig out the pumper.

Communications were very primitive back then. There was a directory for phone numbers throughout the district. If there was a fire emergency you could call the McNary Game Range headquarters, Fire Chief’s residence, or Galloway’s Grocery store. The Game Range got most of the calls because they were the first on the list. Whoever took the call went to the fire station, started the siren, opened the door, and started the pumper engine. They wrote down the address or area on a chalkboard. When enough personnel were ready, no matter how small the crew, they responded. Since there was no dispatching center, they had little need for radio communications.