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Could Zoning Change Shield Bend From Wildfire?

As people move into Central Oregon in droves, they’re driving up the odds wildfire will strike populated areas.

It’s a problem Deschutes County is trying to address through zoning changes. This week, county commissioners approved a designation to require fire-resistant, low density construction on the west side of Bend.

The idea is to put a long, carefully planned buffer between one of Oregon’s fastest growing cities and the pine forest routinely burning around it.

“ where summer winds will blow the fires toward Bend,” said Paul Dewey, executive director of Central Oregon LandWatch.

The nonprofit advocacy group championed the Westside Transect Zone, which will allow about 10 times fewer homes to be developed along Tumalo Creek than previous code would have permitted. The zone change also requires certain building materials, landscaping in perpetuity and evacuation planning.

“Fires will hit these fire-resistant neighborhoods first. One of the biggest threats to populated areas isn’t burning tree embers, it’s burning house parts,” Dewey said. 

Central Oregon LandWatch has been working with the county and private landowners for years to get the zoning approved. Dewey wasn’t aware of other examples of cities using this kind of tool to minimize fire risk, so they didn't use any models to guess how effective it will be. No specific subdivision designs are currently proposed for the transect zone.

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<p>A map showing the Westside Transect Zone in Central Oregon.</p>

A map showing the Westside Transect Zone in Central Oregon.

Emily Cureton Cook is a JPR content partner from Oregon Public Broadcasting. Emily is the former producer of the Jefferson Exchange on JPR and has contributed award-winning programming to Georgia Public Broadcasting. Emily is a graduate of the University of Texas in Austin where she earned degrees in history, studio art and Russian.