As more people move to areas of Deschutes County that butt up against the forest, the risk of a catastrophic loss of life or property from a wildfire increases as well.
Because of that, Deschutes County is discussing additional building and zoning rules for homes near the edge of the forest.
During a work session on Wednesday afternoon, the Deschutes County Commission discussed wildfire mitigation in rural parts of the county, including options that ranged from strengthening restrictions of roofing materials to creating a separate layer of zoning for fire-prone areas.
“We have so many rural residences that this comes into play a lot,” said Commissioner Phil Henderson.
During the meeting, the commissioners acknowledged the fire risk for homes near the forest, but added that they didn’t want to burden homeowners or homebuilders with excessive regulation.
“I’d really want to know the pricing before we implement this,” Henderson said.
Zechariah Heck, associate planner for Deschutes County, described the discussion as an initial foray into how the county could address a growing wildfire risk. According to data from the county forester’s office, the 2010s are already the most fire-heavy decade in Deschutes County history, with 77,998 acres having burned since 2010.
Heck added that the number of residents who are living in rural parts of the county has grown as well, and that growth is likely to continue.
According to the Portland State University Population Research Center, the rural population is expected to grow from approximately 62,000 today to nearly 80,000 over the next 25 years.
“The population’s increasing across Deschutes County, whether it’s in the cities or in the unincorporated areas,” said Ed Keith, county forester.
In 2015, the county commissioned a report from the University of Oregon’s Community Service Center, designed to look at the county’s existing approach to wildfire mitigation and suggest ways to strengthen it.
The report produced a series of regulatory and nonregulatory suggestions, including the creation of a “wildfire hazard combining zone,” which would establish an extra layer of zoning that could regulate building materials and defensible space in areas that abut the forest. Other suggestions include limiting certain types of wooden roofs and creating wildfire mitigation plans for subdivisions or individual homes.
It’s unlikely that all of the suggestions would be adopted, and the commissioners discussed the need for more data on the cost some of the requirements could add to rural homebuilding. Heck said the key would be to balance the need for fire protection with the costs that go along with it.
The commission directed the planning department to return with a decision matrix around the beginning of 2019, and Heck said the commission will explore a path forward after that.
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