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Ashland council considers wildfire hazard mitigation code

The city of Ashland is considering adopting a wildfire hazard mitigation code as part of an umbrella approach to wildfire preparation and resilience, according to Community Development Director Bill Molnar.

The city may elect to adopt Oregon Residential Specialty Code 327.4, which bumped construction standards for wildfire hazard mitigation statewide and allows local jurisdictions to adopt the code if they choose, Molnar reported during an Ashland City Council study session Monday.

“It would apply to new residential construction — they would be reviewed as part of a building permit,” Molnar said. “It generally addresses the key elements of the home in terms of your roof, your windows, your decking, etc.”

Molnar said discussion around adopting new measures was fueled by wildfires that raged up and down the West Coast in 2020.

Recent studies have shown a 2,500-square-foot wildfire-resistant home can be constructed at a cost similar to a “traditional” home, including landscaping, Molnar said.

Building official Steven Matiaco said so far Medford is the only municipality to adopt 327.4 at the local level, and several other Oregon communities are lined up to follow.

Under the rules, builders could not use certain prohibited materials in new construction, such as wood shake roofing. Standard roofing composite, metal, tile and approved noncombustible materials of class B or better may be used.

Requirements for gutters and roofing ventilation are intended to prevent accumulation of leaves and fire ignition in the roofing system, Matiaco said.

“This is probably not going to be a lot of change from the way a lot of our builders are already building, but if they’re not, it’s not cost prohibitive, it’s a very simple measure to meet,” Matiaco said.

Exterior wall coverings must be noncombustible, ignition resistant, heavy timber log or made of materials rated and approved using a wildfire spread simulation system. Matiaco said he expects to see mostly “ignition-resistant” materials in new construction — what has already become the norm in industry circles.

Exposed rafters and eaves and exterior patio and porch ceilings over 200 square feet must be protected by ignition resistant materials or a noncombustible sublayer. The requirements would apply to structures within 12 feet above grade.

Matiaco said decks and overhangs present the most prominent cost and design concerns for contractors and homeowners under the proposed rules.

Interim Fire Chief Ralph Sartain said stakeholders in favor of 327.4 initially received some pushback from the Oregon Home Builders Association — the resulting code was a compilation of what the OHBA and fire service representatives could agree upon, he said.

Sartain said because costs locally are expected to rise most with large protruding decks, small residences such as accessory dwelling units are not slated to face the same cost increases.

Flat lots featuring patios instead of decks aren’t subject to the provisions, Matiaco said. So long as ignition-resistant materials such as box soffits and fiber cement siding are used, changes to flat lot building would be minimal, and most prominently affect people building on hillsides with decks, he said.

Sartain said the goal is not to construct a “nonburnable” building, but to slow ignition and progression of fire. Fire can slow or change direction when it meets a fuel that will not burn — creating pockets to slow flames when they approach and heat a structure decreases the chance the fire will ignite surrounding unprotected homes, he said.

“As we keep putting our homes closer and closer together, as we keep trying to do things to make it more advantageous to have additional property, we are making our homes closer to the next building,” Sartain said. “By doing that, we are creating our own nexus by building our own fire load in our community.”

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497 and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

file photo The city of Ashland may elect to adopt Oregon Residential Specialty Code 327.4, which bumped construction standards for wildfire hazard mitigation.