News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Fire risk maps will change property codes

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

Santiam Canyon residents have the ability to learn the fire risk that exists with their properties now that the Oregon Department of Forestry and Oregon State University’s College of Forestry have released a wildfire risks map tool.

Searchable by address, the online map notes the wildfire risk for each property as well as including whether the property is in the Wildland Urban Interface. The map is color coded, with green indicating the lowest fire risk and red the highest.

Property owners that are in the high or extreme risk categories as well as in the WUI will be required to upgrade the defensible space surrounding their properties as well as fire-harden their buildings.

The map and the defensible space and fire-hardening codes were all developed as a result of Senate Bill 762.

SB762, the wildfire preparedness and resiliency bill,  was passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2021 as a result of the fires that have plagued the state in the past few years, including the Labor Day 2020 blazes that affected huge swaths of the Santiam Canyon.

Defensible space refers to actions that reduce the amount of hazardous vegetation and combustible material around a building. Fire-hardening covers using certain types of materials and building approaches to make a structure less prone to fire.

State officials discussed the map, its search tools and the new defensible space and fire-hardening codes at a July 5 Zoom press conference. 

“We wanted to be more proactive than reactive,” sad Doug Grafe, who moved from the ODF to Governor Kate Brown’s office as wildlife czar per SB762, “and the wildfire risk map being released is an example of that. The map is important for mitigation as well as for raising awareness.” 

State officials and OSU estimate that about 80,000 tax lots, or about 5 percent of Oregon properties, will be subject to the new codes and standards. 

Property owners in the high and extreme risk classes will receive letters about their property, and whether they are subject to the new defensible space and home hardening codes, which should be ready by 2023. The ODF is planning information sessions to address questions on the new codes and map. Oregonians also will be advised how they can appeal their risk class.

At the July 5 session state officials also indicated a willingness to do field visits to assist homeowners in understanding the requirements.

“Homeowners can arrange for a site visit or educational walk-through with our staff,” said Alison Green, a public affairs director in the State Fire Marshal’s office. “This would be only for tailored recommendations for defensible space and some best practices homeowners can do now. Property owners can call our office at 503-934-8204 to connect with OSFM staff in their region.

“We encourage property owners to do everything they can to prepare. It can really make the difference when the fire season gets up and running.”

The map includes some surprising information that also shows how dynamic the fire situation can be. For example the bulk of the damage in the Canyon from the Beachie Creek Fire came north of Highway 22. Yet, that area is tagged with a lower fire risk than land south of the highway. Officials said that that is because the fuel loads were reduced significantly by the destructive nature of the fire. The same goes for the city of Detroit, which was virtually leveled by the fires. The OSU map of Detroit shows mainly low to moderate risk properties, again because of reduced fuel loads in the area.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

To access the risk map and its reports and tools go to 

https://oregonexplorer.info/topics/wildfire-risk?ptopic=2. Click on the Oregon Wildfire Explorer tab and enter your address. The map site also will generate a homeowner’s report and includes links to additional resources.

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