Fees may be waived for Oak Knoll fire victims

The city of Ashland likely will waive some planning fees for people who have to rebuild their homes after the devastating Oak Knoll fire.

The Aug. 24 fire destroyed 11 homes in the Oak Knoll Drive neighborhood and damaged three others.

People who need to remove the charred remnants of their homes can come to the Ashland Community Development Department and get a demolition permit for free, said Bill Molnar, director of the department.

The destroyed homes averaged about 1,400 to 1,500 square feet. Normally a building permit to construct a new home of that size would cost about $12,000, he said.

About $8,000 of that permit fee goes to pay system development charges, which are fees charged on new development that puts additional loads on city infrastructure. Because the infrastructure impact of the destroyed homes already existed, the rebuilt homes will not be charged system development charges, Molnar said.

A person's insurance company should pick up the remaining $4,000 in fees.

However, some people may have been underinsured and their insurance companies may not cover the fees. That situation could especially impact owners of older homes if owners didn't increase their coverage as homes increased in value in Ashland's housing market, Molnar said.

For those people, city officials will review each situation case-by-case and could waive the remaining fees, Molnar and City Administrator Martha Bennett told Ashland City council members during a meeting on Tuesday night.

Molnar said as people rebuild, they should consider non-combustible roofing material.

Ashland Fire & Rescue Forest Resource Specialist Chris Chambers, who helps people have more fire resilient homes and landscaping, said a disaster like the Oak Knoll fire could occur anywhere in Ashland.

He urged all residents to take steps to reduce flammable material around their homes, and to craft plans for communicating with their relatives and friends in case of disaster.

"We had people calling from all over the country," Chambers said of the frantic calls city officials fielded from distant relatives and friends who were worried about Ashland residents.

Bennett said people should be aware of what is covered by their home insurance policy, and where that policy and other important documents are.

"Could you grab vital documents in 30 seconds?" she asked.

Bennett said the city and county need to work on a plan to give the city authority to deal with overgrown vegetation on county land that borders the city limits.

City officials are working on being able to broadcast emergency reports on the city Web site at www.ashland.or.us, Bennett said. Not all residents can get radio signals from AM 1700, which broadcasts information about city emergencies.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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