Controversial fire risk map shelved

 

Last updated 8/17/2022 at Noon



In a surprise move, the Oregon Department of Forestry has withdrawn its wildfire risk map after receiving criticism from the public.

People who own property in “high” or “extreme” wildfire risk areas may face new requirements under Senate Bill 762. The map was part of the implementation of SB762.

Last month the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) released the new map, created with Oregon State University, that outlined wildfire risk statewide, in the first step toward requiring new fire-resistant codes in areas of high or extreme risk.

Following a sizable amount of pushback, some quite heated, the agency said it’s going to “remove the current iteration of the wildfire risk map.”

Many in southern Oregon in particular were angered that they might have to abide by new codes for fire-resistant homes or defensible space under what they viewed as a misguided and illogically created map, according to public comments.

An area of concern around the map was potential impact of risk classification on homeowners insurance.

“We’ve received specific feedback from nearly 2,000 Oregonians that has helped us understand the key areas of concern related to risk classification,” ODF said in a news release. “We have a window of opportunity before the new codes go into effect to take some immediate steps toward addressing those concerns, and we will be taking full advantage of the opportunity.

“We will immediately begin working with Oregon State University on some refinements to improve the accuracy of risk classification assignments based on what we’ve heard from property owners thus far.”

Chief Roger Johnson, who heads Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District and who worked extensively with a statewide team implementing SB762, was sanguine concerning the map’s withdrawal.

“It’s a tool, one of many, that the public had an opportunity to provide feedback on and the community response was sufficient that the map — a map — will be reworked and made a better tool in creating more fire resiliency with structures, especially those close or adjacent to the wildfire urban interface (WUI),” Johnson said.

He also wanted to make it clear that the map was apparently misunderstood as being used by insurance underwriters for calculating homeowners insurance rates.

According to Oregon’s Division of Consumer and Business Services “Insurance companies in Oregon did not use, and currently have no plans to use, the state wildfire risk map in their decision-making, according to data released today by the Oregon Division of Financial Regulation.”

During informal discussions before the state wildfire risk map was released, insurers told the division they were not planning on using the map. Once concerns were raised during public listening sessions on the new map, the division put out a formal data call to all relevant insurers doing business in Oregon to confirm they were not using or planning to use the state wildfire risk map for underwriting or rating decisions. A data call is a formal inquiry that insurers are required by law to answer truthfully.

Johnson told The Nugget that despite his many hours of work on the project, he did not take its initial rejection personally.

“It’s a process, one that at the end will make safer communities, and that’s everybody’s goal who worked on it,” he said.

“After another round of revisions based on local input, the map will be finalized. We will then post an updated map on the Oregon Explorer and issue new notices to property owners in the extreme- and high-risk classifications, which will start a new appeal period,” said Cal Mukumoto, Oregon’s state forester.

 

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