By Tyler Leeds

The Bulletin

Deschutes County became the latest government entity to take preventive action against fires Wednesday, declaring a state of emergency and enacting first-ever restrictions on unprotected wildlands and county-owned lands.

The county’s decision follows a winter that left the region with snowpack levels well below average and an early start to the fire season, with the Two Bulls Fire burning nearly 7,000 acres earlier this month. County commissioners emphasized the benefit these regulations will offer unprotected wildlands, which are those outside of city limits, rural fire protection districts and areas protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. These restrictions come on the heels of the Oregon Department of Forestry last week tightening public fire restrictions in its Central Oregon District.

“This addresses what we believe to be a significant wildland fire threat to public safety,” said Joe Stutler, a county senior adviser. “In context of the Two Bulls Fire, it cost $6 million to put out, did $18 million worth of timber damage, and we don’t even know how much economic damage to the county.”

Stutler said that after the fire season ends, the county will evaluate how the added precautions worked and consider implementing a system of tiered restrictions pegged to certain wildland fire risk factors, mirroring the approach taken by other agencies.

“I believe this will be a step forward for the county,” Stutler said.

Before approving the regulations, County Commissioner Tammy Baney asked Sheriff’s Office Capt. Erik Utter about how these restrictions could be enforced.

“If an individual challenges them, we can remove via trespass, so we do have some teeth in it at this point,” Utter said.

The restrictions are scheduled to be lifted Oct. 15, but Stutler said that date could be changed depending on conditions.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com

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