ODF’s Role in Structural Protection
The primary mission of the ODF Fire Protection Division is to protect forest resources, second only to protecting human lives. However, ODF's forest protection role in the law is not strictly to protect trees.
For most of the past century, ODF protection districts encompassed sparsely populated forestlands, and structural protection was rarely a significant issue. But in recent decades, the number of homes and other infrastructure within ODF protection districts has risen dramatically. Increasingly, the agency is faced with questions regarding the extent to which it should be involved with protecting these structures when fires occur. In many instances, it is impossible to separate the structures from the wildfire environment.
Questions such as these have been debated internally by agency staff several times over the last 30 years. In each case, it was concluded that ODF is not the agency directly responsible for protecting structures within district boundaries. The ODF works with Lincoln County's eight local Rural Fire Protection Districts to prevent and control fires within the rural areas, and so does have an important indirect role in protecting structures.
Statutory guidance regarding ODF's role in structural protection became more complex with passage of the 1997 Urban Interface Fire Protection Act (SB360). This Act, in 477.015, defines "forestland-urban interface" as "a geographic area of forestland inside a forest protection district where there exists a concentration of structures in an urban or suburban setting." A key phrase is "inside a forest protection district." ODF has an additional role in these "interface" areas (477.017 2a.) of providing a "complete and coordinated fire protection system within the forestland urban interface in Oregon...in order to ensure the protection of human life, the safety of citizens and fire service personnel and the highest possible level of livability in Oregon..." ODF interpreted this clause to mean that where homes exist in the forestland-urban interface within a protection district, as defined above, ODF's primary duties include the protection of human life, safety, and livability concurrently with the protection of forest resources.