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Sisters town hall held on state’s development of defensible space codes

SISTERS, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Just about anyone living in Oregon is probably familiar with the term 'defensible space'. As the West has entered into a new era of wildfire, that term is changing.

The Oregon State Fire Marshals Office is holding five town halls in Central Oregon this week to discuss the process directed by state lawmakers to draft a defensible space code. On Wednesday, they were in Sisters.

Chad Hawkins, assistant chief deputy & life safety for OSFM, explained how defensible space has changed.

"I always looked at defensible space as resiliency to the structure -- as saving the structure. If you have defensible space, the structure is at least going to have an increased chance to stand up on its own," he said. "And then over the years, my mindset has shifted as with other folks across the western U.S., defensible space is a life safety issue -- a life safety issue before property protection."

On Wednesday, more than 70 people showed up at the Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire Station to hear from the Fire Marshal's Office about the details of the process.

After a presentation of current and potential defensible space parameters, people were able to give feedback. People raised questions over insurance rates going up, specific fuel mitigation, and fire prevention in general.

One attendee asked what the point of defensible space is if most fires are started in areas that don't have structures.

"What are you doing to address some of the root causes like careless campfires, careless campers, people living out in the forest that obviously don't create defensible space?" the attendee said. "What do you do with it to kind of address some of the causes of fire?"

Others questioned the controversial state wildfire risk map the Oregon Department of Forestry made, which sparked controversy and which state officials recently withdrew from the public view for some more work.

"Thos are our sister agency folks that we go fight fire with every year hand in hand," said Chief Hawkins. "ODF was mandated (by the Legislature) to create a map within a timeline, it was not an arbitrary date. They were told to create a map as mandated by law, so they did their due diligence and I don't think at any time, any ODF'er at any time would say 'this is perfect,' 'this is correct,' but they did what they had based on a time frame, and they put out a product."

"And they knew there would be feedback."

The new defensible space code will be complete by December 2022 and go into effect in 2023. It will apply to the entire state, to maintain consistency of all lands, outside of federal lands.

The Office of State Fire Marshal also will reevaluate the new code every three years.

The Central Oregon meetings are taking place in Sunriver, Bend, Sisters, Prineville, and Madras. Dates and times for each meeting are: 

  • August 16 at 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., Sunriver, Three Rivers School Gym, 56900 Enterprise Drive 
  • August 16 at 5:30 – 7 p.m., Bend, Sky View Middle School Cafeteria, 63555 NE 18th Street 
  • August 17 at 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., Sisters, Sisters Community Room, Sisters Fire, 301 S Elm Street 
  • August 17 at 5:30 – 7 p.m., Prineville, Crook County High School Auditorium, 1100 SE Lynn Blvd 
  • August 18 at 5:30 – 7 p.m., Madras, Madras Performing Arts, 412 SE Buff Street  

For a full schedule, visit the Oregon Defensible Space Code webpage

The OSFM has a section on its website dedicated to the defensible space code development process. To learn more: defensible space code requirements. 

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Carly Keenan

Carly Keenan is a multimedia journalist and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Carly here.


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