© 2023 KLCC

136 W 8th Ave
Eugene OR 97401

Contact Us

FCC Applications
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Bill would grant reporters more access to wildfire zones in Oregon

Andy Nelson
Journalists in Oregon generally have to wait until they're escorted into fire zones. This is a photo from the aftermath of the Holiday Farm fire in 2020.

Oregon journalists would have more freedom to enter active wildfire zones under a bill discussed Thursday in the House Rules Committee.

As wildfires spread, news outlets in Oregon usually have to rely on photos and descriptions from government agencies. Media advocacy groups have lobbied for greater access to natural disasters so journalists can more accurately and efficiently document a breaking news story.

House Bill 4087 would allow reporters past checkpoints if they have proper safety gear.

Tom Holt, a lobbyist for the Oregon Society of Professional Journalists, said during testimony Thursday that first responders would still have the last word on whether to let someone in.

“The on-scene commander or their designee is in charge," he said. "If they say ‘No, I don’t want you to go in,’ their word is final and binding, period.”

Reporters would also be encouraged to take a safety training course developed in conjunction with emergency managers.

The bill has bipartisan sponsorship. A similar version failed to pass out of committee in the 2021 session.

Supporters said it would enable reporters to disseminate potentially life-saving information in a hurry.

"Journalists have been able to provide timely, on the ground information via social media platforms both during and after the events that can help residents leave when necessary," said Rep. Karin Power, D-Milwaukie.

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December, 2018 and became News Director in March, 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”