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Fire Marshal addresses concerns about new Oregon defensible space codes

A man wearing a fire department uniform talks to an older man in a high school gym.
Roman Battaglia
Jefferson Public Radio
Assistant Chief Deputy Chad Hawkins talks with a Southern Oregon resident about the proposed defensible space codes.

Oregon lawmakers passed a wildfire protection law in 2021. Now, the State Fire Marshal’s office is developing new requirements for defensible space and wildfire protection.

The Oregon State Fire Marshal's office is holding six weeks of town halls as they finalize new defensible space requirements for wildfire protection.

The office is gathering information about how to improve defensible space requirements for property owners at high risk of wildfire.

Assistant Chief Deputy Chad Hawkins spent much of a Tuesday town hall in Ashland clearing up misconceptions about what the upcoming code will do.

“A couple times I've heard the comment or the phrase ‘trim the rose bushes’ or ‘cut down the rose bushes,’" says Hawkins. "All we’re asking, or what we’re looking for is to make sure that those rose bushes don’t have any dead or dying material underneath them.”

The new requirements may tell building owners to do things like trimming low tree branches and cleaning up dead vegetation.

Hawkins adds the code will be flexible to meet different needs across the state. The only basis for the new requirements is the language in the International Wildland-Urban Interface Code.

Some of the over 50 attendees at the Ashland town hall had concerns about how the state will enforce the new defensible space code. Hawkins says the code will be adopted by December, but that doesn’t mean it’ll take effect immediately.

“We need to build the program around what inspection, what enforcement, and what education we can do to really socialize folks to what defensible space is, before we can have that expectation of enforcement," he says.

Having the defensible space codes finished by January allows people to start making those changes around their homes and businesses before they’re actually required.

Hawkins also reassured people that financial penalties for non-compliance aren't currently being considered. Lawmakers allowed the fire marshal to set fines if they'd like, but Hawkins says the team is considering other approaches right now.

A draft of the code is expected to be available by early fall.

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 west coast.