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Oregon agency drafts wildfire prevention recommendations

Most of the homes at the Royal Oaks Mobile Manor in Medford were destroyed by the Almeda Fire in September 2020.
April Ehrlich
JPR News
The Almeda Fire destroyed hundreds of mobile homes at parks across Jackson County. It released smoke that was so thick, it topped the state's air monitors.

The public is asked to comment on the draft recommendations through Sept. 16.

Wildfires in Oregon routinely force evacuations, threatening people and their homes. The Oregon Legislature took up the matter last year and passed Senate Bill 762 on wildfire prevention.

The director of the state’s Department of Land Conservation and Development, Brenda Ortigoza Bateman, says the devastating wildfires in 2020 served as a wake up call.
“Oregon lost nine lives, 4,000 homes. We had a million acres of land burn, and $1 billion spent on firefighting,” she said. “So in 2021 in the aftermath of that, the legislature tasked us with writing a set of recommendations. Basically they were asking, ‘How should we be using or developing our land, given what we know about wildfire and its risks and impact?’”

The DLCD has now drafted new recommendations for responding to the increasing wildfire threats. The agency looked at adding evacuation routes in remote spaces.

“In our recent wildfires, it became apparent that we need multiple ways to exit a community, and adequate access for firefighters to get in,” Ortigoza Bateman said, “and connectivity of our streets so that folks can move around and not get pinned into a corner.”

The agency wants to ensure that communities have adequate firefighting capabilities and infrastructure in place. And the recommendations include mitigation measures for new developments, such as keeping schools, hospitals and senior care centers out of areas at high risk for wildfires.

The DLCD is working with several other local agencies to finalize the recommendations before sending them to the Legislature in the fall, and has opened up the process to public comments through Sept. 16.

Two community listening sessions are also scheduled for Sept. 8.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting