Crane boarding school will host firefighters this summer

of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service A “Hotshot” firefighter gestures during the Soda Fire rangeland blaze southwest of Boise in August 2015. Crane Union High east of Burns, Ore., signed a contract that allows federal fire crews to bunk, shower, eat and stage at the school during fire season this summer.

When wildfires erupt in the dry range and timber of southeast Oregon this summer, firefighters will have a ready-made place to rest, shower, eat and stage for suppression work.

Crane Union High School, one of a handful of public boarding schools in the United States, signed a contract to allow Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service firefighters to use its facilities. Firefighters will be able to sleep in the school’s dorms, shower, eat in the cafeteria and even shoot hoops in the school gym, Crane Union Superintendent Matt Hawley said. Firefighters will be able to park trucks, tankers and dozers on the school grounds, as well. Usually, crews live in tents while staging to fight fires.

The contract pays for use of the facilities for a minimum of 14 days, even if crews don’t stage there, Hawley said. The district will be compensated for any additional days of use beyond the initial two weeks, he said.

Like most small school districts, Crane Union could use the money, Hawley said.

“We’ve lost population out here so this is a partnership that benefits both entities,” he said. “It generates some revenue.”

The school will be available to firefighters from June 10 to Aug. 6, after which the district needs to get ready for the 2016-17 school year.

In a news release, the BLM said the staging area will put teams and equipment in a strategic location to fight fires in Southeast Oregon, Southwest Idaho and Northern Nevada. Public safety remains the top priority, but crews also will be pre-positioned to protect sage grouse habitat in the Burns and Vale BLM districts and nearby communities, BLM Fire Operations Specialist Sam DeLongsaid in a prepared statement.

Crane Union is 30 miles east of Burns. The district has 54 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and 52 students in grades nine through 12. Boarding is available for the high school aged students, and 28 students lived in the dorm this past year. The high school draws from elementary schools in a 10,000 square mile area, Superintendent Hawley said. Of the 28 boarders, 10 come from families in which the parents also were boarding school students, he said.

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