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Wildfire risk maps spark concerns about home insurance during public hearing

Mary BradshawÕs home in Elkhorn, Feb. 26, 2021. BradshawÕs fire-hardened home was one of the only ones that survived the Beachie Creek fire in the area.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff
Mary Bradshaw's home in Elkhorn, Feb. 26, 2021. Bradshaw's fire-hardened home was one of the only ones that survived the Beachie Creek fire in the area.

Many Southern Oregon residents were frustrated with state officials during a public hearing Wednesday night over the state’s new wildfire risk map.

In recent weeks, Oregonians have been getting letters in the mail from the state letting them know their homes are at high or extreme risk for wildfire, based on a new wildfire risk map.

The Oregon Department of Forestry hosted a virtual forum attended by over 900 residents on Wednesday night to answer questions.

Some residents were frustrated and claimed their insurance rates are already going up because of the new map.

Homeowner Brandon Larsen said he’s expecting changes to insurance coming very soon.

“I’ve spoken with my insurance provider and they have said that they’re currently assessing the bill and that they are most likely not going to extend any new policies to people in the area and that future rates are also going to be increased," Larsen said.

Another speaker said his insurance has already doubled as a result, with his provider pointing to the risk map specifically.

Brian Fordham from the Oregon Division of Financial Regulation said insurance companies have been studying wildfire risk for decades, and the only change is this data is now available to the public for the first time.

State Senator Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, said regardless of the map, changes to insurance are likely coming.

“The home insurance issue is a real deal," Golden said. "It’s a real deal everywhere that recurring climate disasters are generating billions and billions of dollars of property damage and insurance payouts.”

Some of Wednesday's speakers wanted to see Oregon enact more protections for homeowners, blocking insurance companies from dropping coverage or raising rates.

California enacted a law in 2018 that prevents insurers from canceling policies for one year after a wildfire.

ODF staff also urged residents who feel their property is classified incorrectly to file an appeal for a change. Appeals need to be filed before September 21, 2022, and can be to request a higher or lower risk classification.

Appeals will also be accepted anytime the map is updated. The map should be updated within 12 months after a new Pacific Northwest Qualitative Wildfire Risk Assessment is issued.

ODF will hold three additional community meetings next month, and officials say they're hoping to schedule more in-person meetings in the future:

  • Aug. 2, La Grande—Eastern Oregon University, One University Blvd.
  • Aug. 3, The Dalles—Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, 5000 Discovery Dr.
  • Aug. 10, Redmond—Deschutes County Fairgrounds, 3800 SW Airport Way

All three meetings will be from 7-8pm.

After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the west coast.