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Advocates file appeal over revisions to Josephine County 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.

A Southern Oregon land-use nonprofit recently filed an appeal seeking to reverse changes to wildfire safety standards in Josephine County.

Earlier this year, Josephine County commissioners relaxed long-standing requirements that residents have fire protection in rural and forested areas.

The state law that defines requirements for development of single-family housing in forestland says that the structures must be located within a fire protection district or be covered by a contract with a private fire company.

The revisions to county code, which go into effect on May 28, mean that developments in farmland and rural residential zones no longer need to provide proof of adequate fire protection.

Those developing in forestlands can meet this standard through existing wildfire protections from the Oregon Department of Forestry in so-called forest protection districts.

But Steve Rouse from the nonprofit Rogue Advocates said the new county requirements go against both state law and the county’s own planning goals. Rogue Advocates filed the petition with the Land Use Board of Appeals last week.

“My impression is that the county commissioners’ primary duty is to protect the health and safety of their citizens,” he said. “And that was the primary reason that we filed this appeal, because we feel that in contrast to their obligations they are endangering the public.”

Rouse said these county changes will encourage more development in wildfire prone-areas.

“According to the Oregon Department of Forestry they are the number one county that is most vulnerable to wildfire in the state,” Rouse said. “And so for us it was a no-brainer, why would we want to allow that?”

Josephine County officials did not respond to a request for comment. County commissioners have previously claimed these changes would make it easier for rural landowners to develop on their property. They also recognize already existing wildfire protections that ODF provides to landowners in forestlands.

ODF does not respond to structure fires, unless there’s a risk of the fire spreading into the forest.

Rouse said the petition, filed with LUBA, will likely be heard in June. The board will then decide whether or not the county should reverse its changes.

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.