Thursday, January 24, 2019

Deschutes County Addresses Wildfire Risk with Zoning Changes

Deschutes County zoning map showing low density zone adjacent to public lands.  

As thousands of people are still trying to figure out their new normals following the Camp and Carr Fires in 2018, many are looking at the commonalities of these unprecedented fires to find ways to prevent these types of tragedies in the future. 

Deschutes County in Oregon is routinely confronted by wildland fires that occur on the forested public lands just west of the city of Bend. Living with wildfire in this fire-dependent ecosystem means stakeholders must confront the hard truth that defensible space and home hardening might not be enough to prevent home-to-home ignitions when significant winds are in play as they were on the Carr and Camp Fires.

Debbie Lane in Paradise, CA before the Camp Fire and after.  

A local advocacy group worked collaboratively with private landowners, county planners and fire specialists to propose rezoning the high-risk area to require fire-resistant building materials for new construction and limit the amount of development there in an effort to reduce the chances that a wildfire will progress into one of Oregon’s fastest growing cities. This is a tough pill to swallow in most communities because cities, counties and planning boards are under pressure to approve new housing developments and increase their tax base. In addition, developers try to fit as many homes into a new subdivision as possible to maximize their investments. 

Deschutes County Commissioners however, recognized the overall value to the community and unanimously approved the changes in zoning which will result in 90% fewer homes than were allowed under the previous code. The Cohesive Strategy strongly promotes this type of "co-management of risk" among all stakeholders to help reduce the risk of wildfire and its devastating outcomes. More here

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