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Experts Teach Mount Hood Residents How to Protect Homes and Neighborhoods from Wildfire

By Adrian Knowler

Experts Teach Mount Hood Residents How to Protect Homes and Neighborhoods from Wildfire

Publisher’s Note: You will notice that there are two stories about this event in this paper. We decided to run both of them due to the importance of the event and the information contained within.

A group of wildfire experts spoke to about 60 local residents during a wildfire preparedness event organized by the Mount Hood Corridor Wildfire Partnership at Welches School on May 19.
Homeowners attended classes on topics such as emergency communication and evacuations, how to minimize fire risk to individual houses and properties, and how to band with neighbors to reduce risk community-wide.
The event also offered the opportunity for people to ask questions of wildfire experts, including firefighters, fire marshalls, and representatives from state forestry and insurance regulation agencies.
Some in attendance said they signed up out of fear of wildfires and wanted to know about selecting fire resistant plants in their landscaping.
Kayla Bordelon, an Oregon State University wildfire specialist, coordinated the event and spoke to the attendees before kicking off the workshops.
Bordelon said that although large wildfires in the area over the last few years have increased residents’ concerns about fire risk, wildfires have long been a natural part of the local landscape.
“This place has been shaped by periodic wildfires over thousands of years,” Bordelon told those in attendance. “We are entering a period that is warmer and dryer than the mid-twentieth century, so we have to learn to live with the risk. We have to be prepared for when, not if, there are wildfires,” she said.
The attendees were split into four groups and rotated through classes taught by separate experts.
In two of the lessons, groups learned about assessing their homes and properties for risk posed by potential wildfires. Experts shared techniques in how to reduce the amount of fuel in a home’s vicinity.
According to Logan Hancock, Community Wildfire Defense Program Manager for AntFarm, plants and flammable items touching or near homes present the most risk for ignition during a wildfire event. AntFarm offers free home assessments and trims or removes trees and other vegetation, often for no cost, to reduce the amount of wildfire fuel on a property.
Hancock said that AntFarm completed about 50 fuel reductions for homeowners last year and hoped to do around the same number this summer and fall.
Jen Warren, a Risk Reduction Specialist with the Oregon Office of the state Fire Marshal, taught a class about designing and retrofitting homes with fire resistant materials and techniques.
Warren taught homeowners about non-combustible siding and roof materials, as well as how screens can protect decks from flying embers, which experts have found lead to about 90% of the home ignitions caused by wildfires.
Hoodland Fire District Division Chief Scott Kline led a class about organizing FireWise-certified communities among groups of neighbors.
FireWise certified communities are eligible to apply for federal and state grants to pay for wildfire risk mitigation work, including fuel reduction.
To gain the certification, at least eight homes must assess their wildfire risk and submit a preparedness plan, among other steps. Kline said he has helped groups such as the Timberline Rim Homeowners Association with the checklist to receive certification, and would like to help other new groups as they are formed.
Also present at the event was Craig Vattiat, a representative from the Oregon Division of Financial Regulation, said he was there to address concerns some homeowners had about their insurance premiums.
Vattiat reassured attendees that state law requires fire coverage as part of a homeowners insurance policy and told policy holders that his office could step in on their behalf if they feel a claim has been wrongly rejected.
Attendees had questions for Vattiat about a revised state Wildfire Hazard Map, which is set to come out this year after being initially issued and rescinded last year.
Many people were concerned that their premiums would go up as a result of the map’s hazard designations. Since then, the State Senate passed a bill that bans insurance companies from using the data in their calculations.
Vattiat said that insurance premiums have indeed jumped – to the tune of about 45% in Oregon since 2018 – because of increasing risk and large payouts for disasters all over the country. He said insurance companies already use proprietary software to assess risk, so although

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