Ending The Incident Action Plan
Physical Attributes and Infrastructure Little Columbia Southern Island is a bridgeless barrier island located off the Southwest Coast of the United States. The nearest municipality is a one hour drive from the Columbia Coastal Marina, which then takes 45 minutes to reach the island by ferry or boat. The water between the mainland and the island is designated as a protected wildlife zone by the U. S. Fish and Game Commission. All boat traffic is limited to 15 mph per hour. The island is approximately seven miles in length and varies between 1/8 and 3/8 miles wide. The length and width of the island changes as currents erode and deposit sand along the shoreline. The only vehicles/equipment on the island are electric golf carts used by the residents, one 1930 jeep used to grade the main road, a Coastal Power & Light truck, one sea plane, and fire department apparatus. There are no commercial stores or facilities on the island, which includes food or other amenities. The governing body of the island is an Advisory Board with one person elected from each district of the island representing 2,724 residents. The island is divided equally into five different districts. The advisory board communicates concerns, problems or issues to the Columbia County Commissioner who represents the island. All Advisory Board and community meetings are held in the Coastal Chapel on the island. Rarely do the island residents attend any of the County Commission meetings due to the time and distance to the meetings held on the mainland. The Advisory Board provides a summary list of the issues and considerations for their County Commissioner to present at various hearings and meetings. The island is divided into three distinct mindsets. The northern end of the island will not utilize any governmental agency and refuses to have potable water connected to their homes. The middle of the island is made up of rental properties along the coast and bay. The southern part of the island is made up of residents who have a vision for change by developing the infrastructure to include water and sewer from the mainland. The majority of the island is single-family homes with two condominium developments; combined, both condominiums have 300 units. The condominiums on the bay are protected by a sprinkler system that is supplied from a fire pump connected to the island’s only pond. The island has no public use or facilities for public access. The road system consists of unimproved paths and dirt roads which are maintained by the residents. Many of the unimproved paths and dirt roads only allow vehicular access that is limited to the width of a golf cart. The main roadway system that runs the length of the island will accommodate fire apparatus and the island’s utility truck. Residents that live on the bay side have privately owned docks that extend out past the shallow flats for access to their home. Many of those homes are only accessible from the dock and water. There is only one dock that will accommodate the ferry and fire boat from Columbia County Emergency Services. The ferry is mainly used for transporting people and household garbage from the island to the Columbia Coastal Marina. The infrastructure is very limited with Coastal Power & Light providing electricity and the Coastal Telephone Company providing phone services. Cellular phone coverage is limited due to a lack of cellular towers within close range. Potable water is provided by a privately-owned water company (owned by one of the island residents). The privately-owned water company has a deep well that provides water to 10% of the island residents through a 3-inch water main with 1 ½ inch branches. The four fire hydrants located in the southern part of the island are fed from the fire pump. All the homes in the northern section of the island have individual cisterns that rely on rain as their source of water. Some homes have shallow wells and a reverse osmosis desalinization plant that provides water to 38% of the residents and condominiums. Single-family homes are on septic tanks and drain field systems, except the condominiums which has a wastewater treatment system. All parcels of the island are privately owned by the residents and there are 745 platted lots ranging in various sizes from one tenth of an acre to five acres. The majority of the homes and structures have native vegetation within five feet and no fuel reduction buffers. Several of the residents have pushed for community awareness regarding Firewise principles and a defensible space, keeping wildfire away from homes and structures, but it has been met with resistance. They want the native vegetation to remain in place to have the old coastal look. Part of the concern from those aware of the fire danger are weather patterns and available firefighting resources that would influence the ability to control the fire quickly. Emergency Services Emergency medical services are provided by the Little Columbia Southern Island Fire Department. The fire department has two fulltime career personnel which includes the fire chief and a firefighter/paramedic. Four volunteers from the community provide assistance to the fire department on emergency incidents. The fire department is funded through a non-ad valorem assessment levied on each property and contributions from island residents and visitors during special events held on the island. Law enforcement is provided by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Department. The Little Columbia Southern Island Fire Department was formed after a fatal fire that killed four island residents. The delayed response from Columbia County Emergency Services to the fire occurred after the 9-1-1 call was dropped. The fire was so intense that fire investigators from the State could not determine the cause. Following that fire incident, the island’s Advisory Board met and demanded fire protection. After several meetings with their County Commissioner a solution was proposed to provide limited fire protection and emergency services from the county. The Little Columbia Southern Island Fire Department was able to maintain on-duty status of at least one or more persons 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. In addition, the fire department had to initiate measures to control the emergency while the county provided a full response to the incident, if needed. The Little Columbia Southern Island Fire Department had to also submit a proposed budget for approval during the budgetary process beginning each October 1st. The island’s Advisory Board also serves as the Fire Board with oversight for the fire department. The total budget for the fire department is $220,057.78. Twenty thousand dollars is raised by the volunteers and Advisory Board from the sale of tee-shirts and hats during special events on the island. The fire department is temporarily using one of the rental homes on the island as their station. The station has a small generator which provides power to the radio, refrigerator, and some emergency lights during power outages. Most emergency calls are received by a cellular phone which is carried by the on-duty person at the fire station. Many residents do not trust the Columbia County 9-1-1 Public Address System (PAS) since the communications center dropped the emergency call that resulted in the fatal fire. The fire department utilizes two all-wheel drive pickup trucks converted to fire apparatus and two all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to access the beach and remote areas of the island.
The coastal area surrounding Little Columbia Southern Island is under water restrictions due to an extreme drought condition with a deficiency of as much as 10 inches below the average rainfall for the island. Even native plants that can tolerate drought are showing signs of significant damage. Columbia County Wildland fire managers have issued burn bans for the entire coastal area and placed suppression resources on high alert. Fire units are dispatched to any calls reporting smoke. After eight months of being on high alert, the county had to restrict response to every call involving reported smoke because of budget constraints. Currently, all the calls have been false reports of islanders and those on the mainland burning household waste in burn barrels. Columbia County Emergency Services (CCES) developed a scenario-based standard operations guideline for responses of only one apparatus for reported flames showing until its arrival, and then units could be dispatched based on the scene size-up. The tradeoffs of responding only to flames showing have reduced expenditures and proved to be effective. Little Columbia Southern Island Fire Department (LCSIFD) had responded to multiple calls involving smoke from burn barrels despite the request not to burn household waste. However, the northern part of the island refuses to abide by the request. After responding two to three times a day to the northern area, the fire department adopted the same guidelines as the county for only responding to visible flames. Moreover, due to the large amount of natural vegetation many times smoke was not noticed and the fire department was not even alerted. Drought conditions continued to worsen and resources available to respond to incidents became even more restricted due to multiple small fires occurring in the county. Columbia County petitioned the Federal Government for aid; however, due to the number of other disasters occurring across the Nation, requests were denied, unless there was a true disaster. After weeks of responding to small fires caused by human carelessness, CCES sent a memorandum to LCSIFD reminding them of the agreement that the county would provide a full response to the incident if needed and only after they attempted to mitigate the incident first. One reason listed in the memorandum was due to the daily number of fires not receiving a full response in the county because of limited resources. Small fires began to increase on the island, taxing the career firefighter and fire chief, as well as the four volunteer firefighters. The volunteers decided to respond only when notified by career personnel instead of the county dispatcher for working fires and emergencies. The volunteers’ only means of contact were through cell phones on an already taxed system of family members calling to check on loved ones. Weather conditions began to change and the normal weather patterns of the morning sea breezes moving inland and the land breeze moving toward the coast in the evening were making it impossible to predict fire behavior based on weather and time of day. Wind gusts up to 30 mph became a norm for the area, causing white caps in the bay, which was unheard of for decades. The LCSIFD responded to a small grass fire on the most southern part of the island where the only means of fire suppression was a float-a-pump that had to be hand carried to a canal in order to mitigate the fire. The fire was approximately covering a ¼ acre in moderate fuel. While fighting the fire on the southern part of the island, reports came in of a large fire that had developed in the northern part and was moving south. Multiple residences, including the volunteer firefighters, started to call the fire department cell phone to report multiple structure fires. The LCSIFD called CCES for mutual aid and were denied due to CCES working a 45-acre fire involving multiple structures in the eastern part of the county and they requested mutual aid to assist them. The LCSIFD fire chief left the southern fire to investigate the northern fire. A total of 12 structures were already lost and two more were involved. As nightfall was approaching, the winds had died down and the fire was near a natural fire break.