How is Liability for a Wildfire Determined?

If you own a forest, it is crucial that you understand your responsibilities. There are plenty of benefits to owning a forest, but with forest ownership comes the responsibility for controlling wildfires occurring on your property. Using equipment and tools such as chainsaws during fire season can cause wildfires and can increase the chance that the owner of the land must pay to suppress wildfires. An Oregon wildfire attorney can help you determine who may be liable if your home or belongings are damaged by a wildfire started by someone’s negligent actions.

What Oregon Law Tells Us About Wildfire Liability

In Oregon, the law tells us that landowners who own forests must extinguish wildfires on their land. The landowner is responsible for controlling these fires as well. When wildfires are not under control, they are a public nuisance and interfere with the safety, health, comfort, and peace of a community. The owner of the property or the person in control of its operation is responsible for extinguishing the fire.

Landowners or operators who do not have the equipment to provide for these responsibilities will rely on the Oregon Department of Forestry and Forest Protection Association to extinguish it for them. The forest patrol assessment partially pays for this service, which is an additional fee to be added to the landowner’s annual property tax bill.

The Responsibility of Owning Forest Land

Forest landowners face two types of responsibility. These are explained below:

Forest Owners’ Responsibility for Non-operational Fires

If a fire is caused because of lightning or is started by the public, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) will aid them in fighting the fire. This is if the forest’s owner has paid the assessment fee and taken the required steps.

Landowners’ Responsibility for Operational Fires

If landowners or those operating the land use it to harvest or conduct other activities, they are required by law to make fire prevention efforts. These prevention criteria include making “every reasonable effort” to prevent, contain, and suppress wildfires that result from their operation. The landowner absorbs these costs.

Types of Liability for Landowners

When determining landowner liability, how the property owner or person using the property manages operations will define who is responsible.

When is Total Liability Applicable?

When a wildfire originates or spreads because the landowner or operator behaves negligently, it is considered a total liability. Listed below are some of the reasons for total liability:

  • Operations must be reported to the Oregon Department of Forestry or Fire Protection Association. If a landowner fails to report, they may face total liability.
  • The fire burns in additional hazardous areas.
  • The landowner does not take the best possible measures to extinguish the fire.

If the owner of the forest does not follow the rules listed above, they will be in total liability for the cost of putting out the wildfire. This means they will receive a bill for these services.

What Constitutes Limited Liability

Forest owners could be mandated to pay charges of up to $300,000 in fire suppression expenses. If an operation on the land starts the fire, an investigation will take place. The investigators will determine whether or not all regulations were adhered to if an operation such as the following took place there:

  • Timber harvest
  • Road construction
  • Controlled burning

It is critical that all the regulations are followed.

Contact Us Today

If you own property and have questions or concerns about wildfires in your area, reach out to Paulson Coletti Trial Attorneys PC. Our skilled attorneys are here to ensure that your landowner rights are protected. Reach out today to set up a consultation.