Upper Rogue gets details of SB 360, fuel break regulations

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Shady Cove Fire District 4 station was packed wall-to-wall on January 20 with residents of Shady Cove and Trail who came to learn about fuel reduction on their properties located in the Jackson County Forestland-Urban Interface. Oregon Department of Forestry Fire Prevention Specialists, Ashley DuBrey and Herb Johnson, educated landowners about what steps they should take to avoid a fine of up to $100,000 if a fire started on their property and spread to surrounding land causing a potential wildfire.

In October 2010, the Jackson County Forestland-Urban Interface Classification Committee identified 13, 784 lots that met the criteria for being included in the interface area. More than 12,500 of the lots were classified “extreme” and the rest “high” risk for wildfire. A series of five meetings in January at different fire districts, including this one, answered landowners’ questions and explained the process. Displayed were draft maps of the interface area. An informational public hearing on February 1 will formally collect public comment on the maps and the maps will then be turned over to the county clerk, said DuBrey.

Most people present at FD4 had received a letter from ODF indicating their property was in the forestland-urban interface and subject to Oregon Senate Bill 360 that was written to address fire protection needs in an interface. The bill covers liability of cost-recovery measures for fires on properties for which a certification form is not on file at ODF. DuBrey and Johnson explained what it would take to get certification and avoid penalties.

Landowners were advised to create fuel breaks around their homes and other structures to make their property more fire defensible. Some measures included clearing dry and dead brush within 50 feet of structures; not storing combustible materials under a deck; removing tree branches that hang over dwellings or are within 15 feet of a chimney; removing tree branches that are low to the ground; clearing dry needles and leaves and removing vegetation from both sides of a driveway to make it easier for emergency vehicle access.

In the case of a conflict between SB 360 and other laws, codes or ordinances, ODF’s law comes second, said DuBrey. Property owners should first follow rules imposed by federal, county or city jurisdictions.

To help landowners get certification, Johnson said, ODF will perform free assessments to give technical advice to property owners and also offer grants of $400 per-acre to aid owners in fuel reduction. ODF also offers training to contractors in this field. When Johnson asked if anyone wanted a free assessment, one man called out, “Heck, yeah.” A long line then formed to sign-up for assessments and grants. Johnson pointed out the money is not for cutting lawns and doing other yard work, bringing some humor to the meeting.

When the work is completed, landowners must return their self-certification form to ODF. As well as returning the form before a fire originates on a property, the required fuel reduction work must also have been done. If not completed and the fire spreads through the property causing ODF to use extra fire suppression resources not budgeted, SB360 will kick in with a possible fine from $1 on up to $100,000, said Johnson.

A possible surcharge of $25 is written into SB 360. $10 would be used for administrative costs and $15 would be given back to landowners. The money would then go to help those who might need help on fuel reduction. At this time, however, ODF is not imposing the surcharge locally or anywhere in the state, said DuBrey.

Some questions from property owners included what if a neighbor’s tree branches hang over your house and property? Trail resident, Hugh Curtiss, said he has a runoff ditch 15-feet from his garage. The ditch belongs to the state and has a heavy growth of blackberry brambles. Who is responsible?

Certification is good for five years. Some present such as former Shady Cove Mayor, Ruth Keith, said, “We’re probably okay but a review would be good since it has been about five years since the last reduction.” Resident Bob Pasley also had been previously certified but wanted to make sure his property was still compliant.

To schedule assessments, have questions answered or to begin the grant process call ODF at 541-664-3328. The February 1 public hearing is at 1:00 p.m. at the Jackson County Auditorium, 200 Antelope Road, White City.By

 

Margaret Bradburn
Of the Independent

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