Friday, September 23, 2016

Developers Building Firewise Communities From the Ground Up

Developer Chris Heftel, right, and homeowner Mike Thompson discuss wildfire safety measures in the River Bluff Ranch community. Photo:  Tom Banse, Northwest News Network

More and more homes are being built in the wildland urban interface WUI) across the West. This brings into question who is responsible for the home and fire protection of these developments. The Cohesive Strategy strongly encourages and supports the creation of Fire Adapted Communities in which individuals, neighborhoods, cities, counties (and all stakeholders really), understand their risk and take the steps they can to mitigate them. 

It's a different commitment for each stakeholder. Local governments and elected officials can adopt codes and ordinances that restrict building in the WUI and support development and land use regulations that require Firewise standards for those who choose to build in fire-prone areas. 

In Washington, a developer took matters into his own hands when he developed the River Bluff Ranch subdivision near Spokane. The websites and brochures that are full of mitigation advice weren't enough. They became the rules as the development was built in preparation for wildfire from the ground up with fire resistant siding and roofing. In addition, Covenants, Codes and Restrictions (CCRs) will enforce the Firewise landscaping requirements.  

In Deschutes County, Oregon, in order to obtain a building permit, developers must agree to utilize Firewise building and access standards and leave CCRs in place that maintain Firewise landscaping throughout the development.  In addition, the Homeowners Association must secure and maintain Firewise Communities/USA recognition. Caldera Springs is one such development near Sunriver, OR and The Tree Farm in Bend, OR is just getting underway now. 

In Plumas County, there are more homes in the WUI than in any other northern California county - 7,494. Plumas officials have taken significant steps to ensure additional homes built in "the stupid zone" will be prepared for wildfire. (A term one humorist coined to described areas where experts have identified one hazard or another and determined that they are dumb places to build homes). Developers are now required to provide Firewise improvements to help protect homes such as multiple access roads and structural fire protection.

Activities like these are an important piece of the Cohesive Strategy Implementation puzzle and contribute significantly towards communities to becoming more fire adapted.   

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