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Meeting on Oregon’s wildfire risk map moved online after threat; some ‘high-risk’ homeowners frustrated

'I don't know the motivation of the caller or the reason for the threats'

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) --  The Oregon Department of Forestry and Oregon State University College of Forestry rolled out the Oregon Explorer Wildfire Risk Map last month, and this week, it had to push its community meeting about it online due to a verbal threat.

Derek Gasperini, public affairs officer with ODF, confirmed the threat Wednesday to NewsChannel 21. 

“We understand concern,” Gasperini said. “We were just surprised at threats against folks just trying to share information with the community that’s impacted.”

On Wednesday night, he’s facilitating a community meeting on the new, interactive Oregon Explorer wildfire risk map, created by his department, the Forest Service and OSU.

Since the map launched in June, his department has received a lot of questions -- and even a threat sent their way, pushing the meeting virtual.

“I don’t know if they’re related, and I don't know the motivation of the caller or the reason for the threats,” Gasperini said. “I know we have received a large request for information.”

Under Senate Bill 762, which lawmakers passed in 2021, if your property falls under the "high" or "extreme" risk category within the wildland-urban interface boundary, you’ll have to meet home hardening and defensible space code requirements.

The code are scheduled to be be drafted by the state Fire Marshal's Office by December, and take effect next April.

“State fire marshals aren’t ready with ticket books to go out and start fining folks,” Gasperini said. “They really want people to understand what defensible space means and have an opportunity to do that on their properties.”

One thing that is ready -- and, in fact, has been in use for several years -- is a separate wildfire risk assessment by insurance companies.

Jason Epple, a principal with Century Insurance in Bend said, “We have a fire season here in Central Oregon, and the insurance carriers -- it's now heavily on their radar.”

Epple says insurance companies use risk systems similar to Oregon Explorer to determine rates.

“There are many, many, many cases where a structure is either flat-out uninsurable or the premium is outrageous,” Epple said.

However, not every company uses the same system.

“It's just the fire mapping company drawing a circle around Central Oregon saying ‘This area’s a no, this area’s a yes,” Epple said. 

Epple added that he thinks the Oregon Explorer map can make things easier for everyone.

“It would be fantastic if the (insurance) carriers are using this new map that was put together by people in our state,” Epple said. 

However, Gasperini said that’s not the state’s goal.

“There is not an intent, as far as I know, to standardize this map for any insurance purposes,” Gasperini said.

The virtual meeting is being held through Zoom from 7-8 p.m. Wednesday. Join the meeting through this link:

Article Topic Follows: Fire Alert

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Noah Chast

Noah Chast is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Noah here.


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