Fire Adapted Ashland: Expanding the Wildfire Hazard Zone
Ashland’s Wildfire Hazard Zone (WHZ) and associated safety codes were conceived in 1994 to address the threat of a fire in the hills of town. Experience tells a different story. Destructive wildfires have happened primarily outside of the existing WHZ:
- The 2000 Nezla Fire torched one home and threatened dozens just above Siskiyou Blvd.
- The 2006 Chitwood Fire damaged 3 homes, also just above Siskiyou Blvd.
- The 2009 Siskiyou Fire caused evacuation of 109 homes in the Green Meadows neighborhood, and Bellview School.
- 11 homes burned in the 2010 Oak Knoll Fire, with 3 more damaged alongside Interstate 5.
Community Wildfire Safety Proposal: Expand the WHZ
Our local experience, that of other communities (Redding, Weed, Wenatchee, Santa Rosa), and our analysis shows that all of Ashland could be exposed to wildfire. If not directly exposed to flames, homes and businesses can experience wind-blown embers that commonly ignite buildings during wildfires.
To reduce our wildfire risk, Ashland Fire & Rescue and the Wildfire Mitigation Commission have taken input from the Planning Commission and Tree Commission and proposed to expand the Wildfire Hazard Zone to encompass the entire city limits. This would eliminate the use of wood shake roofing and flammable landscaping during new construction or remodels that increase building footprint by over 200 square feet. Except for number five below, the expanded ordinance would only apply to properties where construction is proposed. Generally, these are the types of elements that would be required:
1. No fire-prone vegetation or ground cover within 5 ft of a building.
2. Ten foot spacing from tree branches to a chimney and between buildings and
conifer tree branches (deciduous trees should not touch the building).
3. Spacing requirements between existing fire-prone trees and shrubs within 30 feet
of a building, and up to 100 feet in some cases.
4. Additional fuel break size for lots with 20% slope or greater, where property size
5. No new planting of fire-prone species within 30' of buildings anywhere in the
City. This is not related to new construction.
The proposed wildfire safety ordinance and code changes were approved at the Planning Commission in June, and subject of an upcoming City Council meeting on August 6th and formal hearing August 21st. Please join us to learn more.
Living With Wildfire: Existing Construction
The proposed standards only apply to new construction and some remodels, so what about all the existing building in town? We're working on an effort to get mitigation funding for the highest hazard buildings throughout Ashland, and we really need everyone to make wildfire safety a priority around their homes. Our Firewise USA program is a great model, whether you rally your neighbors to form an official Firewise community or not, Firewise recommendations can work on all buildings.