Wildfire Risk: Awareness and Resources

Almeda Fire damage

Knowing the wildfire risk of your home, business, property or even just the community around you is invaluable. This knowledge facilitates insight to the priority of fire awareness as it pertains to you specifically. But how do you uncover this ranking? How do you even fully understand if wildfires should become a priority for you and your community?  We have seen the big fires that have been raging over the last 5 years, from Paradise, California, and Yosemite National Park to right here in our own backyard, but should we be worrying about them still?

According to the Congressional Research Service, as updated on July 11, 2022, Since 2000, an annual average of 70,072 wildfires has burned an annual average of 7.0 million acres. The acreage figure is more than double the average annual acreage burned in the 1990s (3.3 million acres)”

Now, those are some big numbers, especially for those that have homes in the areas at higher risk to experience the threat of encroaching flames. In seeing statistics like the one above, you’re mind might start asking the basic questions-

Is my home at risk where I am now?
When is it at risk? 
What can I do to optimize the safety of my home?

Lucky for you, you’re in the right place, asking the right questions!

Traditionally, most wildfires ignite between June and August, peaking in the exhausted dry month of August; however, this period is beginning to stretch out beyond those few months. With this in mind, the steps needed to ensure safety and security around your home reaches well past the hot summer months. The Paradise, CA Camp Fire happened in November of 2018. Here locally in Southern Oregon, one of the most devastating fires to rage through our state happened at the beginning of September in 2020. It not only gained the attention of National Geographic, the NY Times, The Washington Post and was featured on the national NPR programming, but it also grabbed our attention as well.

In the Almeda Fire, over 2,500 homes burned. That’s 2,500 homes belonging to our neighbors, our friends, and our communities. Here at Ashland Insurance, we handled 152 claims, 146 of which were closed quickly, appropriately, and effectively. This means 96% of the claims submitted were handled with the care and timeliness as to not add even more stress to the homeowners sifting through to find what was left. We even had someone present at the office 24/7 for those that needed to just come in and get the guidance they needed in person.

As one fire is put out, and the ashes are sifted through and cleaned up, the question still arises- what can we do to be prepared? What is needed to be done at all levels of the community?

Wildfire Risk: What Do I Need?

To develop any plan of preparedness, there must first be an understanding of what may need to be navigated- whether gathering information based on what the trends we’ve been experiencing firsthand, or the coming trends being projected, the opportunity to become more aware is already here. 

Just as the statistics showed, there is an undeniable presence of wildfires and the risks they pose. 

Oregon Wildfire Risk Map
       Oregon’s WildFire Risk Map as supplied by Oregon State Legislature

So how has the Oregon State Legislature approached this?

In 2021, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 762. This comprehensive legislation facilitated more than $220 million to help Oregon modernize and improve wildfire preparedness through 3 key strategies: creating fire-adapted communities, developing safe and effective response, and increasing the resiliency of Oregon’s landscapes.

As part of this legislation, the Department of Forestry was directed, in coordination with Oregon State University, to oversee the development of a comprehensive wildfire risk map, assign one of five wildfire risk classes to properties, and identify the wildland-urban interface.

The Oregon Wildfire Risk Explorer is designed to identify the wildland urban interface and wildfire risk at the property ownership level. It shows a comprehensive view of wildfire risk within the State of Oregon, indicates local fire history, and offers additional resources. The site facilitates information regarding support for homeowners, communities, and professionals to identify and prioritize local wildfire prevention, mitigation efforts, and implement defensible space standards where applicable.

What it can do: The Oregon Wildfire Risk Explorer hosts a number of features that help translate the brightly colored map into the bits of information you need to become more aware of where your home sits on the map.

  • Risk Classification option starts with ranking the address entered on the risk scale, as it applies to Oregon specifically. This is where you will find whether your home or business is listed as at “No Risk” “Low Risk,” “Moderate Risk,” “High Risk,” or at “Extreme Risk” 
  • Social Vulnerability will show how all features and data apply to specific communities. This can enlighten a bit of the community awareness as to who is at greater risk, or where the trends of risk overlap in specific communities.  
  • Burn Probability is the thing so many of us worry about. Yes, my home might be in a Low to Moderate Risk classification zone, but what are the chances it actually burns? This feature comes with its own legend and can help anyone gain a stronger grasp on the wildfire risk priority, as it pertains to a certain address or location- from those looking at how to decide what will go into making their home fire safe, to those that are looking to buy and insure their homes with fire safety in mind. 
  • Fire History and Active Fires feature shows fires from the past based on data sourced by the U.S. Geological Survey, as well as keeping an active track of current burning fires.  Being able to look at historical fires puts in perspective why this is all so very important- the brightness of the legend colors instills a genuine priority.  This feature also spans outside the state of Oregon. 
  • Additional resources for Administrative Boundaries facilitates ample information with everything from city limits and urban growth boundaries to ODF Forest Protection Districts and Structural Fire Protection Districts

So, how do I use it?

The development of the interactive wildfire risk map offers intuitive use! You can peruse the general state map and all its features, putting eyes on how all the data fits into the state as a whole. If you want to hone in on a specific location, all you have to do is type in an address and the map will consolidate data pertaining to that location. A quick reference data box will pop up, giving you ratings associated with wildfire risk classification, if the location is held within wildland urban interface boundary, and the general risk value. There are also additional links made available that will guide you on pursuing the required actions to create a defensible space, as it relates to your home’s ranking according to State Legislation ORS 477.490. 

Once I have my Wildfire Risk ranking, what do I do with it?

After following the in-document guidance found in the homeowner’s report,

Give us a call at (541) 482- 0831

We will do our best to answer questions as to how these numbers might potentially affect your home premium increases and insurability, generally speaking into the future