Josephine Co. Commissioners exploring fire protection options for homeowners on “unprotected lands”

GRANTS PASS, Ore. —  “It came down to the high level of fire intensity of last summer and realizing how many people were confused about what we had,” said Josephine County Commissioner Lily Morgan. “They’re asking the county to find a solution.”

Josephine County has the largest number of people living in “unprotected” areas in Oregon, which means thousands of people don’t enroll in fire protection.

“We had a significant portion of our county in evacuation last summer, so people [realized] how they were affected by that,” she said.

With fire seasons becoming more intense in recent years, Morgan says they asked voters in an advisory question to reconsider a decades-long practice in May. 64 percent of voters said “yes.”

Commissioner Morgan says homeowners in unprotected areas have to subscribe to one of two private, for-profit companies.

“Rural Metro and County Fire both provide that service and they respond to those homes,” she said

She says people who don’t enroll can still call 911, get a response from the agencies, and get a bill.

“You can’t operate on a user fee system the way a taxi and a tow truck does… it just doesn’t work,” said Chief Phil Turnbull, Rural Metro Fire District.

Fire Chief Turnbull says when 45,000 people don’t pay for fire services, as they do right now, the agency can’t afford more resources to better fight flames.

“We need the community’s support to pay for a standing army that we hope we never use,” he said.

Commissioners are currently looking at options to make sure all of Josephine County has some sort of fire protection; one of those options includes forming a new fire district.

“There’s a lot of different options and so the commissioners have agreed that we are going to be engaging the community to find out what their desires and needs are, the level of service the community wants for a fire protection district,” said Commissioner Morgan.

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