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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.

Central Oregon / Deschutes County / Fire Alert / Government-politics / Top Stories

Max Goldwasser

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

Comments

10 Comments

      1. Did you watch their online presentation? Even the county’s own data shows that we dont lose many structures to wildfire around here and less every decade etc. This is one of those “solution looking for a problem” situations, just like the noxious weed ordinance which had a similarly mysterious style of manufactured-consent approval. Someone important in our county wants to increase costs on homeowners in a way that directly creates more business for sectors of the local property speculation industry, and there is lots of pressure to approve it regardless of if it makes any sense. Thats why they keep re-announcing this survey, because they havent gotten enough positive responses yet (notice the county staffer announcing what answers people are “supposed” to give in the survey)… this is sadly how many decisions get made in deschutes county and im hopeful new blood on the county commission will help change things

      2. Pretty sure if I build my home or have it built and it burns down or falls apart its my responsibility not the county’s. If one of my trees falls on the neighbors car who’s fault is that…mine not the county. Who’s insurance pays for it…yep still mine.

  1. [According to the CDD, in Deschutes County, more acres have been burned in the last 40 years than in the previous 100 combined.] This is due to a lack of forest management since 1987. A conflagration used to be 5-10 thousand acres. Since all the extreme conservation began the forests have become massively overgrown with underbrush and diseased and bug infested trees. Just ripe for massive forest fires as we have seen in the past few years. Climate change has nothing to do with it. Ignorance is the cause. Extreme conservation is extreme deforestation by fire. 2 million acres was set aside for the spotted owl. 1 million of those acres burned in the year 2020 in Oregon. Proper forest management would have saved a mass majority of those forest lands.

  2. Another thing that would help mitigate the size and volume of these fires is we could go back to attacking them when they start, immediately, rather than wait for a command structure to be in place or for it to get to a size deemed dangerous.

  3. This would drive up some costs, but how about spacing the houses further apart. You can have no vegetation in your yard, nothing flammable, but if your house is right next to your neighbors, the fire can easily jump from one house to the next.

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