Oregon Has A New Plan To Protect Homes From Wildfire. Homebuilders Are Pushing Back

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Original artcile by Cassandra Profita of NPR 

The green metal roof on Mary Bradshaw’s house gleams amid scorched earth and dead, blackened trees. All of the surrounding homes burned in last year’s Beachie Creek Fire in Oregon’s Santiam Canyon, but hers was untouched.

“We were shocked,” Bradshaw said. “Having seen what the fire did, we really didn’t expect it to be standing.”

It’s a shining example of how home-hardening measures can prevent houses from burning, even when they’re surrounded by fire. Bradshaw and her husband built their home with concrete siding, a cement porch, no gutters or air vents on the metal roof, and no vegetation near the house. Those are all key fireproofing measures that experts recommend.

“We built it with fire in mind, although we never thought we would have a fire,” Bradshaw said.

Oregon leaders are hoping some of these measures will help save homes from burning in future wildfires as summers in the West get hotter, drier and more fire-prone. But they have been the most controversial part of a sweeping new wildfire protection plan, facing pushback from property owners, and homebuilding and agricultural industries.

In a compromise of sorts, those groups, along with others, will now spend the next year advising state agencies on how to map out the state’s most fire-prone areas and determine where the home-hardening rules will be required.

Most states don’t require fire-resistant materials

California has mandated wildfire building codes in high-risk areas for more than a decade, but it’s an outlier. An NPR analysis last year found most states don’t require rebuilding with fire-resistant materials, and homebuilder associations have mounted stiff opposition to proposals to do so.

That happened in Oregon when officials first pushed for wildfire building codes several years ago. The Oregon Home Builders Association testified the measures would add substantial cost to a home’s price, even though other assessments found fire-resistant homes would be minimally higher or even cheaper. The state did approve fire mitigation codes in 2019 but left them optional.

Then last year, raging wildfires in Oregon destroyed thousands of homes and killed nine people.

The wave of unprecedented destruction prompted lawmakers to pass a wide-ranging $200 million wildfire bill to prevent another such catastrophe. It also includes more firefighting capacity, expanded forest management plans and clean air shelters to protect vulnerable people from smoke.

“I don’t think any of us will forget the horror as we saw towns burned overnight, thousands evacuated their homes, leaving behind all of their belongings,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in signing the bill. “We were simply not equipped to fight the fires of this new age, which are faster and more fierce and fueled by the impacts of climate change.”

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