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SEEKING YOUR EDEN IN RURAL IDAHO? SCENERY, YES - CITY SERVICES, NO

Trails End Subdivision on the South Fork of the Salmon River was a haven from the world until the Chicken fire blew through like a cyclone and consumed a dozen homes and outbuildings last August.

The fire was an expensive cautionary tale for the get-away-from-it-all crowd. Whether it will be heeded is another matter.Thousands of families are building their own Shangri-Las deep in Idaho's backcountry even though they may receive inadequate fire protection, law enforcement, water and sewer services - or none at all.

"Some people are willing to accept that and get along fine," said Greg Teasdale, Lewiston-area administrator of the Idaho Division of Environmental Quality. "Some don't realize what they're getting into."

While Idaho's unspoiled vistas persuade people to build vacation or retirement homes around such areas as Coeur d'Alene, McCall and Swan Valley, local governments are finding it increasingly difficult to accommodate them.

"People are moving out into rural subdivisions," Teasdale said. "That's their right to do it. But often there isn't much planning there. They find those subdivisions are taxed for finances."

The lack of services for remote getaways hits home during fire season.

Crews were dispatched last summer to set hose lines and spray retardant foam over buildings in the Payette and Boise national forests. Communities such as Secesh Meadows feature brand new log cabins alongside Civil War-era structures, but no fire departments.

At Trails End, 60 firefighters were on hand Aug. 28 when the Chicken blaze headed their way. It burned hoses carrying water from Pony Creek, and crews eventually were ordered to safety zones as flames tore through homes. They managed to save 20 residences.

Homeowners throughout the northern tier of the Payette National Forest were evacuated as a safety precaution, and Idaho County Sheriff Gene Meinen's deputies spent 30 days patrolling the closed area to keep thieves from looting the vacant cabins.

To the south, Valley County Sheriff Lewis Pratt dispatched everyone he had - including jailers and marine deputies - as the Blackwell Complex burned near homes east of Payette Lake. Among those threatened was a $3 million country estate surrounded by tinder-dry ponderosa pines.

A growing number of homes are built in forested "rural-urban interfaces" near Spokane and Coeur d'Alene. More than 120 were destroyed or damaged in October 1991 by a firestorm that ripped through the parched trees.

Payette National Forest spokeswoman Susan Reinhard was temporarily shifted to Nevada last summer when the Hallelujah fire took off north of Reno. She said that fire burned right around a subdivision because homeowners prepared beforehand by creating "defensible spaces."

They removed brush, dry grass and other vegetation from around the lots and planted more fire-resistant types of trees. Unlike in some subdivisions, the rustic look of cedar shake roofs was not encouraged.

"We flew over it," Reinhard said. "It was amazing to see these five-acre spaces and black all around them."

Sewer and water systems are additional problems for remote homes.

Teasdale said some developers may try to save money by putting in substandard systems, providing enough water pressure for the first homes but leaving subsequent households to suffer.

At Cascade Reservoir, algae blooms each summer are the result of excess nutrients from cattle and human waste. Valley County Commissioner Tom Olson said many cabins around the reservoir were built in the 1950s and 1960s when there were no restrictions on zoning and sewage treatment.

Residents of several subdivisions on the reservoir are considering or have approved bond issues to finance installation of their own sewage systems, with property owners shouldering the debt.

Other cabins are isolated from those neighborhoods and cannot afford a sewer, but Olson said most are far enough from the water that they do not represent a pollution problem.

Public health standards on water and sewage systems are growing more complex as efforts are made to combat bacteria such as giardia often present in surface water. And Teasdale said the state is evaluating whether groundwater from shallow wells sunk for backcountry subdivisions should fall under the same water treatment requirements.

But such concerns become irrelevant when families envision their own cabins in the woods. Teasdale said some mountain counties don't even have planning and zoning boards to guide new developments.

"It becomes a question of who has the authority to deal with the problems," he said. "We are not a growth management agency, just a health and environment agency. People are surprised when no one steps up to the plate."