Put rural fire protection solution to a vote


Public safety officials have been worried about incomplete fire protection in Deschutes County for decades. There are about 175,000 acres and 300 homes in the county unprotected from wildfire. The Deschutes County Commission is trying to come up with a solution.

But any solution should not be imposed by the county. It should be put to a vote by the residents who would be paying for it.

The residents who live in the areas around Alfalfa, Lower Bridge and Plainview can expect ambulance service and law enforcement. They can’t expect fire protection.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to them. That doesn’t mean they all like the situation.

For the county commission, there’s concern about the lack of fire protection beyond the obvious. There could be liability issues if law enforcement or county employees respond to a fire without fire protection and are injured. The lack of protection also creates complicated decisions that must be made by public safety officials when there is a fire on unprotected land. Should they intervene? Are lives in danger? Is it going to spread to protected land?

Commissioners have looked at several options:

• Doing nothing.

• Organizing or facilitating new fire districts in areas such as Alfalfa, Lower Bridge and Plainview.

• Collecting money from property owners to provide protection without a public vote at $250 per year per $100,000 in assessed property value.

• Using the closest forces to fight a wildland or structural fire and bill the property owner; and more.

For now, the commissioners plan to survey property owners about the need for protection and cost. They also plan some public meetings.

Fire protection is a basic part of public safety. We’d like to see those families in unprotected areas get protection. But whatever the proposed solution is, it should be put to a vote of the residents who would have to pay for it.