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Josephine County Commissioners consider relaxing fire protection requirements

A fire station with two yellow/green fire trucks parked in a garage. The sign above says "Williams Hwy Station, Rural Metro Fire."
Erik Neumann
/
JPR News
A Rural Metro Fire station outside of Grants Pass. Rural Metro Fire is the sole remaining private fire company covering unprotected Josephine County.

The Josephine County Commission is mulling proposed changes to county code that would only property owners in forest lands would have to show proof of fire protection to get a building permit.

Currently, all property owners outside of Grants Pass have to show proof they’re either in a fire district, pay for a private fire service or have the resources to fight a fire on their own.

This change would also allow landowners to use wildfire protection from the Oregon Department of Forestry to meet that requirement.

During a land use hearing on Tuesday, Commissioner John West argued ODF already provides wildfire protection for his property, and he shouldn’t need to pay for another private fire service to meet this requirement.

“I might get protection faster than anybody could ever give me protection because they have the capability of getting to me quicker than anyone else would ever be able to get to me,” he said.

Steve Rouse from the land use group Rogue Advocates said during public comment that this change could lead to more fire risk in some areas.

“If [property owners] don't want to contract, they should at least have the ability to fight a fire on their property,” he said. “And if they don't fight that fire, they don't have the means, that fire is going to probably spread to the next door and the next door and the next door, whether they have fire protection or not.”

County commissioners argued these changes would make it easier for rural landowners to develop on their property and would recognize already-existing wildfire protections.

ODF Public Information Officer Natalie Weber said the agency was not consulted over this proposal, but it wouldn't change how they fight wildfires.

She said ODF doesn't have the capability to fight structure fires and will only respond if the fire has the potential to spread to wild lands.

"Our fleet, our firefighters, they're all trained for that wild land fire protection," said Weber. "And we really do not cross over into structure at all."

The county board of commissioners will hold another meeting to consider these proposed changes on February 14.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.