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A city of Ashland map shows the city limits (blue line), existing wildfire lands zone (pink area at lower left of the city), fire ignition spots (green stars) and some historic wildfires (blue area at lower left, green area at center bottom, and red areas at right), the bulk of which fire activity is outside where fire resistance regulations are currently the tightest.

New wildfire ordinance on hold

While designating Ashland a wildfire hazard zone would allow the city to dictate new safety measures within the entirety of city limits, some residents are concerned about how the new label could impact their insurance.

The Ashland City Council on Aug. 21 had unanimously approved the first of two readings of amendments to the city’s Wildfire Mitigation Ordinance, which would designate the entire city of Ashland as a wildfire hazard zone at the recommendation of Ashland Fire and Rescue since that designation would allow the city to mandate such firesafe steps as banning wood-shake roofs on new construction.

But rather than reading and passing the second and final reading Tuesday night, the council voted to postpone the second reading two or four weeks.

City Council members said residents have expressed concerns about how their insurance companies will react if their home is suddenly declared to be in a wildfire hazard zone, fearing increasing costs or denial of insurance altogether.

In effort to find answers to those questions, Senior Planner Brandon Goldman said he talked to five local insurance agents to ask how they address wildfire overlay.

He said the five insurers said that “they don’t look at local zoning in terms of assessing risk and establishing the parameters by which they’ll underwrite insurance.” Rather, they look at individual site constraints and conditions, including response time from firefighters.

Goldman said it was particularly interesting, however, to look at recent fires and see how they impacted decisions by insurance companies. He said Oregon Mutual told him that for a period of time when the Hendrix fire was most active, they would not issue a policy to anyone within 10 miles of the active fire. The fire was about 9 miles southwest of Ashland.

The council unanimously voted to postpone to allow more time for city staff to talk with local insurance agencies about the new zoning designation and to research how specific language in the ordinance could affect insurability. If only minor adjustments are needed, theouncil will revisit the second reading in two weeks. If more major changes are deemed necessary, council will revisit the amendments with a first reading of a revised ordinance in four weeks.

“More time would allow staff to make sure no language is provoking negative response from insurance agencies,” City Administrator Kelly Madding said.

Some residents expressed their hope that changes to the amendments happen quickly, despite the postponement for reviews. Ashland resident Nancy Nelson submitted to council members a letter that outlined her feeling of urgency regarding the matter.

“The people in California and Oregon towns that burned down this summer probably wish their cities had a Wildfire Mitigation Ordinance like the one that needs your vote of confidence,” the letter said.

Nelson said that while “you can’t please everyone,” kickstarting the Wildfire Mitigation Ordinance is necessary.

“There will always be a few people who do not want the government telling them what they can and cannot do, whether it’s plastic straws or gun control or fire mitigation and making a city more defensible,” she said. “So, my point is, you have to let the s--- hit the fan.”

Councilor Dennis Slattery said it will be important to spend time weighing the impact of changing the terminology and ensuring everyone is on the same page on all accounts before going forward.

“I think it’s really important that we get this right within the public and we get the understanding out there, and people have a chance to see what’s coming at them,” he said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporting intern Morgan Theophil at mtheophil@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4485. Follow her on Twitter @morgan_theophil.

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