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Deschutes County seeks public input on revised wildfire protection codes

Two proposals for rural areas: Requiring fire-resistant building material for new construction & requiring defensible space for existing structures

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Deschutes County’s Community Development Department is considering implementing new codes and regulations that would better protect rural communities from wildfires, though not without costs.

The process comes during a year in which wildfires ravaged more than 1 million acres around Oregon, the second-most in any year in the state’s history. According to the CDD, in Deschutes County, more acres have been burned in the last 40 years than in the previous 100 combined.

"This risk is real, and the vulnerability is significant," Planning Manager Peter Gutowsky told NewsChannel 21 Thursday evening.

On top of that, development patterns can lead to more people exposed to wildfires -- and more ignition sources that spark those wildfires.

That's important to note, because Deschutes County is the fastest-growing county in the state. About 200,000 people live in the area, according to last year's data, which is up 220% from 1980.

"The comprehensive plan is the vehicle to understand all these issues and to figure out how to integrate them in a way that's balanced, and addresses development opportunities, as well as quality of life as well as public safety," Gutowsky said.

Two proposals are in play. One involves using fire-resistant building materials for new residential construction.

For example, roofing material would have to be asphalt, slate, metal, clay, tile or concrete. Moreover, roof gutters would have to be made of non-combustible materials and prevent accumulation of leaves and debris.

The Wildfire Mitigation Advisory Committee estimates that could add anywhere from zero to $15,000 to the construction cost of a new 2,400-square-foot home in rural Deschutes County.

The other measure up for consideration would require creating at least 100 feet of defensible space around existing structures.

On Thursday evening, the CDD held a virtual open house to answer questions and address concerns from the public. For the next week, both rural and city residents are being asked to fill out a survey regarding their thoughts on the proposals.

Gutowsky said early results are promising.

"We're seeing a solid majority expressing support for further developing the details in the fire-resistant building codes, as well as defensible space," Gutowsky said.

The survey results will be presented to county commissioners in early 2021. If there's support, Gutowsky said it could take a year to vet them thoroughly and implement them into the county code.

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Max Goldwasser

Max Goldwasser is a reporter and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Max here.


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