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Ordinance changes proposed to reduce wildfire threats

Ashland is considering updating an ordinance to reduce wildfire threats within the city by expanding the city’s wildfire lands boundary, adopting new land use amendments for fire prevention and establishing a prohibited flammable plant list.

“We are looking for ways to reduce the chance of wildfire in the city,” Ashland Forest Division Chief Chris Chambers said.

The proposed amendments, presented during a City Council study session Monday night, list a number of approaches that would regulate landscaping and establish new wildfire standards to reduce installation of wood-shake roofs throughout the city.

Staff also proposed the council adopt a list of 22 prohibited flammable plants that could not be planted near structures, including blackberry, cedar, pine, douglas fir and rosemary.

“The ordinance would ... prohibit new planting of the plants on the list within 30 feet of a structure,” staff said.

Chambers said the fire department has seen several residential fires that turned dangerous due to surrounding landscaping, such as the Oak Knoll fire in 2010, where the fire jumped 1,100 feet across Interstate 5, and the Nezla Street fire in 2001, where the fire burned down the entire front lawn in four minutes.

“All of them happened outside of the wildfire zone,” he said. “Mostly because of the landscape of the surrounding area.”

Ashland established its wildfire overlay zone in 1997, covering the rural areas south of Siskiyou Boulevard. Staff proposed expanding the boundary to cover the entire city.

“Currently, many areas that are outside of the designated Wildfire Lands boundary pose the same hazard values as areas within the overlay,” the staff report reads. “Additionally, history has shown that areas far outside of the current Wildfire Lands are extremely vulnerable to ignition and promote extreme fire behavior.”

The effort, staff said, has been vetted by the Tree, Wildfire Mitigation and Planning Commissions.

The land use amendment, he added, would only be applied to new development proposals and new construction. It requires the removal of all dead or dying vegetation, highly flammable plants and combustible material within 5 feet of the structure, modification to large trees to provide a clearance of 10 feet and new fences and roofs to be fire resistant.

Staff also asked the council to allow flexibility within the new ordinance and amendments so that staff could address unique on-site conditions.

Council Mike Morris asked how the amendments would affect residents who want to garden in their backyards.

“Are we going to make people get a permit to plant a tree in their homes?” he asked.

Goldman said staff won’t enforce a permit to plant trees, adding that the city will rely mostly complaints from neighbors.

“If someone reports to us that a prohibited plant was planted within 30 feet of their property, we will come down and remove it,” he said. “The property will also be put on a list that will get annual review.”

Councilor Jackie Bachman asked whether the city has a mitigation plan for blackberry shrubs throughout the city.

“I see them everywhere, especially along the creeks,” she said.

Goldman said the city doesn’t have an active plan unless the area falls under a new development zone.

“If we have a grant from (Federal Emergency Management Agency), that would go a long way,” Goldman said.

The city is planning to host an open house on May 31 before starting its public hearings on the amendments, Goldman said, at the Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St.

—Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.

Tidings file photoA dozen structures, mostly homes in the Oak Knoll neighborhood, were destroyed in a 2010 fire in Ashland.