New map classifies wildfire danger across Oregon. See what your home's risk is

·4 min read

A new map that classifies wildfire danger across Oregon was released Thursday morning in a move that could have an impact on homeowners who live in areas of high or extreme risk.

The map was released in response to Senate Bill 762, which passed the state Legislature in the wake of the 2020 Labor Day fires that burned over 1 million acres and destroyed regions of the state seemingly unprepared for the scale of the calamity.

The Willamette Valley is generally in a low risk category, although the risk rises sharply into the foothills, while the Coast Range sits in the moderate risk category.

The map breaks down areas of the state into extreme, high, moderate, low and zero wildfire risk. A majority of the state's landmass — 57 percent — is classified as being under extreme or high risk, centering on the Cascade Range, southwest Oregon’s Siskiyou Range and patches of northeast Oregon in the Blue, Wallowa and Elkhorn mountains. High danger is spread across much of Central Oregon.

Wildfire Risk Map by Don Currie on Scribd

In addition:

Out of a total number of 1.8 million tax lots in Oregon, officials estimate that:

  • 4.4% of Oregon’s land area is in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), which includes 956,496 tax lots.

  • 120,276 tax lots in Oregon are in the WUI and in high or extreme risk classifications.

  • Approximately 80,000 of the 120,276 tax lots in the WUI and high or extreme risk classifications currently have a structure that may be subject to new codes or standards.

  • If you want to build new residential on any of the over 120,000 tax lots in high to extreme risk, new building code standards will apply beginning April 1, 2023.

Navigate the map online here.

"My takeaway is that a majority of us have some level of risk, even if it's low, and there are many things we can do to be as prepared as possible," said Alison Green, spokeswoman for the Oregon state Fire Marshal.

There are two ways homeowners within the extreme and high risk areas could be impacted — new building codes and requirements for defensible space.

Building codes requirement

For those roughly 80,000 tax lots within the extreme or high risk areas of the WUI, state officials said new building codes would apply to homeowners "only when they choose to take an action," said Mark Peterson, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services, which includes the Building Codes Division.

"Commonly, this would be the construction of a new home, or a major repair or remodel of exterior elements that would be required to meet the new standard," he said in an email.

Examples, he said, include putting on a new roof or completely replacing existing siding. Those could trigger the new code standards and would require using fire-resistant construction materials.

General maintenance and repairs would not trigger the new code standards, he said.

"Building codes are not applied retroactively in Oregon, and the initial designation of being in an impacted area will not require any immediate action by a homeowner to comply with the new code," he said.

The rules will go into effect Oct. 1, 2022, and will become mandatory April 1, 2023, he said.

Peterson added:

The Building Codes Division is partnering with Oregon State University to create a customer tool based off of the statewide wildfire risk map to identify areas where the additional construction standards apply. The bill asks the division to modify the existing optional code standards of the 2021 Oregon Residential Specialty Code Chapter 3 Section R327. Code development work this summer will modify the standard to address alterations to exterior elements of items covered under the section.

Wildland-urban Interface Map by Don Currie on Scribd

The fire-resistant construction requirements include things such as:

  • Class A or B roofs and noncombustible gutters

  • Ignition resistant siding

  • Protection of overhangs and eaves

  • Ignition resistant materials for patios and decking

  • Exterior windows and skylights

All new home construction in high to extreme risk areas — so 120,000 tax lots — new fire-resistant building code standards will also apply beginning April 1, 2023.

Requirements for defensible space

The same population — the roughly 80,000 tax lots at the extreme or high classification of the WUI — would likely have requirements to have defensible space around places where people are "living or working," Green said.

The rules haven't been finalized yet, she said. They are going through a public process this summer, should be finalized in December and go into place in spring of 2023.

"We want the public to be involved in this process," Green said.

Green said defensible space means preparing yards and space around homes to have the best chance to survive a wildfire. That could include reducing fuels and grasses around homes, among other actions.

"Defensible space is the buffer that owners can create between their business or home and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any surrounding wildland area," the agency said.

Those seeking to comment and take part in the process of shaping defensible space rules can navigate here or email: SB762@osp.oregon.gov.

This story will be updated with details on what impact the new classifications will have on Oregon residents.

This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: New map classifies wildfire danger across Oregon. See your risk