Forest Landowner Wildfire Liability

Posted on behalf of RizkLaw on Jul 28, 2014 in Consumer Alerts

While owning a forest offers many benefits, major responsibility comes with forest ownership. The use of heavy equipment and chainsaws, especially during fire season, increases the risk of landowner and operator liability for the costs of fire suppression.

Under Oregon law, forest landowners are responsible for controlling and extinguishing wildfires that occur on their land.

  • An uncontrolled fire is considered a public nuisance, an “unreasonable interference with the health, safety, peace or comfort of the community.”
  • A forest landowner or operator is responsible for putting out the fire.
  • If the landowner or operator doesn’t have sufficient personnel or equipment to provide fire protection, then the Oregon Department of Forestry or Forest Protection Association must extinguish it (paid for in part in a forest patrol assessment added to the landowner’s annual property tax statement).

Forest Landowner Responsibility

There are two sectors of Responsibility for forest landowners:

Non-operational Fires

Forest landowners receive firefighting services from the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) at no cost for fires caused by lightning or the public (if the landowner has paid their forest patrol assessment fee).

Operational Fires

By law, a landowner or operator who conducts harvest or other operations must take all legally required fire prevention measures and make “every reasonable effort” to suppress a wildfire resulting from an operation, at the landowner’s cost.

Total vs Limited Landowner Liability

Preventing wildfires and limiting liability is determined by how a landowner or operator conducts management operations.

Total Liability

If the origin or spread of a fire was due to landowner or operator negligence, notice of the operation was not given to the Oregon Department of Forestry or the Fire Protection Association, the fire spreads through additional hazard areas, or the landowner or operator fails to make every reasonable effort to put out the fire, the landowner may be billed for all of the costs to put out the fire.

Limited Liability

A forest landowner may be required to pay up to $300,000 of extra fire suppression costs but no district costs if an operation, such as timber harvest, road construction, or burning causes a fire and investigation finds that all regulations were fully followed.