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Council passes first reading of wildfire safety measures

Amid a summer of intense wildfires and the recent mass destruction in Redding, California, the Ashland City Council on Tuesday approved the first of two readings of amendments to the city’s Wildfire Mitigation Ordinance (WMO).

The ordinance will designate the entire city of Ashland as a wildfire hazard zone based off research provided by Ashland Fire and Rescue. According to Forestry Division Chief Chris Chambers at the public forum on Aug. 6, the distance fire embers can quickly travel paired with the abundance of flammable vegetation in Ashland is basically a recipe for disaster.

The ordinance will allow the city to dictate new safety measures within the wildfire overlay zone, or hazard zone, which now will be considered all of city limits.

The ordinance includes regulatory portion for new construction and new plants, and a voluntary portion in hopes that citizens will modify their homes to make the city a safer place.

Mayor John Stromberg said the basic principle of this ordinance is to not add any more flammable materials to the city.

“Ashland people do better if they have control over what they’re doing,” Stromberg said. By adding the voluntary portion, it’s the city’s hopes that some of the more flammable, existing properties which the ordinance doesn’t touch will be voluntarily modified.

Chambers emphasized that this ordinance is only one small piece to a much larger puzzle in protecting the city against wildfire.

The mayor also said that the WMO needs to be passed as soon as possible because it’s part of the foundation for an application for a $3 million Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant which will provide some financial assistance with costs incurred due to the ordinance.

“This absolutely does not prevent Ashland from becoming Redding or Santa Rosa, but what it is, is a very important piece,” Chambers said. “We can’t move forward without this piece in place.”

The ordinance doesn’t affect existing properties unless an addition of 200 square feet or more is added, half or more of a roof is replaced or a fence is replaced. Other than that, it only affects new structures in its safety requirements.

It does affect new planting. The prohibited plant list was perhaps the most controversial portion of the ordinance. No new plants on the prohibited plant list can be added to the city, although there are a few exceptions, such as if the landscaping meets specific spacing requirements.

In response to expressed concerns, a prohibited plant list subcommittee was created since the public forum meeting. The subcommittee will be permanent and, because the plant list will be approved as a resolution rather than a document, it can adapt to the needs of the community.

Changes to the list were made, including allowing rosemary, ceanothus and Oregon grape.

The council unanimously passed the ordinance.

The second and final reading is expected sometime in September, Chambers said.

For more information on the ordinance, visit www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=17603.

Contact Daily Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Fireplaces were all that was left standing on parts of Oak Knoll Drive after a wind-fueled blaze destroyed 11 homes in 2011. Tidings file photo