After flames claimed a nearby home, neighbors on Three Rivers Island met with firefighters Wednesday to talk about preventing the next tragedy in a waterside community inaccessible by road.
While many ideas were discussed, it may be years before the community has true fire protection, if ever. One resident has even hooked up a fire hose to his own house and is encouraging neighbors to do the same so the community can become its own front-line defenders.
Golf carts are the primary mode of transportation on Three Rivers Island on the southern bank of the Amite River Diversion Canal. They ferry residents across the bridge over the Petit Amite River to reach the community and rumble down its only road — a narrow, mile-long strip of concrete.
Once a campsite, people now live full-time in about 30 of the 92 cottages, trailers and cabins in the neighborhood. Most of the homes sit on the canal, with water-facing porches and docks.
“It’s beautiful out here. It really is. It’s quiet,” said resident Sanford Kreisler.
But island living comes at a price.
It takes firefighters 20 minutes to get from the Maurepas station to the bridge, where they need at least another half hour to unload their truck and pack it onto a trailer which they tow down the island behind a golf cart.
“You might have four homes gone in an hour,” said Assistant Fire Chief Troy Guitreau, of the Livingston Parish Fire District 9 in Maurepas.
Ambulances can’t reach the neighborhood either.
“If you’ve got a medical history, you don’t need to be living back there,” Guitreau said.
He and other parish fire authorities, as well as staff from the Property Insurance Association of Louisiana, spoke with members of the homeowners association Wednesday about ways to make the community safer and insurable.
Standing in front of the charred and melted remains of the burned home, they discussed the challenges of multiple suggestions offered by neighbors.
The golf cart path can’t support the weight of a fire truck, even if a crew could get one on the island. The soil is probably unsuitable to install a parish road. A private road has fewer building restrictions but would run a considerable cost to the community. A new fire boat, like the one used by the St. Amant Volunteer Fire Department to extinguish the Aug. 3 fire, may offer protection but won’t improve their insurance rates.
That’s because insurers only measure how many road miles separate a property from a fire station, explained PIAL Public Protection Division Manager Blaine Rabe. Fire boats can pump water from the canal but aren’t big enough to hold all the supplementary fire equipment carried on a truck.
Without roads or fire hydrants, the Three Rivers Island neighborhood currently has the highest possible ranking in fire protection for insurance purposes.
In the past, residents paid less, but out of confusion from the insurance companies. Most residents get their mail delivered to boxes across the bridge. But insurance companies eventually realized that circumstances were much different in the few thousand feet between the mailing addresses and the residential addresses.
“Now a lot of insurance companies know about it,” said Doug Alleman, homeowners association vice president.
Kriesler said he lost his insurance and has not yet found a new carrier. Homeowners association president Duke LeMoyne said his rates have gone up “considerably.”
“We have a lot of people asking every day to sell their property,” Alleman said. “The real estate agent is telling me, ‘No fire protection, no sale.’ ”
Parish Council Chairman Ricky Goff suggested having a trailer pre-loaded with hoses and nozzles left on the island full-time to help firefighters bypass the laborious process of loading up their own gear. Training with fire crews could help neighbors position the gear ahead of first responders in an emergency, he said.
Kriesler has already bought a fire hose and upgraded his water meter so he can battle any flames that may erupt in his house or his nearest neighbor’s house.
“If you do it right, you should be able to slow the fire down. I don’t care what anyone says,” he remarked.
The hose puts out 23 gallons per minute at 60 pounds of pressure, compared to a hose on a district truck which expels 150 gallons per minute. But Kriesler believes he can slow the fire down until the parish fire crews arrive.
He wants his neighbors to get their own hoses, and he wants the government to help.
“I think the parish should ante up some money,” Kriesler said.
And in a peculiar stroke, the community does lie completely in Livingston Parish, though crews may have to crisscross into Ascension Parish and back at least once as they cross bridges between the nearby rivers.
Cindy Phillips, who works at the Thunder Bayou store in Ascension Parish just across the golf cart bridge, asked a group of fire chiefs how many times they might have to cross a parish line getting to the neighborhood. The chiefs laughed and pointed on a nearby map trying to count up all the crossings.
Due to a mutual aid agreement, the parishes help each other in emergencies, and the St. Amant Fire Department winds up making appearances at Three Rivers Island.
For Goff, the biggest issue is the lack of roads. He rhetorically asks what would happen if he had a heart attack while standing in the neighborhood.
“Are you gonna haul me up there?” he asked, pointing toward the golf cart gate.
“[Communities without roads] should never be allowed.”