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City to adopt state fire hazard map

Lassen County Times of Susanville, California

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The Susanville City Council directed staff to write a resolution adopting the state of California's Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone map at its Oct. 21 meeting.

Representatives from Cal Fire urged the council to adopt the map at the council's Sept 16 meeting, but the council members asked staff to investigate the impact adoption of the fire zone would have on residents before the council made a decision.

When the matter came up for discussion Oct. 21, Mayor Brian Wilson recused himself because he is an insurance agent and councilmember Kathie Garnier recused herself because she lives in the area under consideration.

Since councilmember Rod De Boer was absent, the council could not take action because it did not have a quorum. A coin flip resolved the issue, and Garnier won. Gamier and council members Nick McBride and Lino Callegari voted to direct staff to draft the resolution.

Based upon computer modeling, Cal Fire has determined the western side of Susanville is in a Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone, and it asked the city to also adopt that zone.

Some cities have adopted maps that differ from the state models, but Cal Fire is not aware of any in Northern California that have taken that action.

One of the council's concerns was the effect on insurance rates should the council adopt the state map. While the map is not intended for use by insurance companies, adoption of the zone might lead to an increase in insurance rates for local residents.

Susanville Fire Chief Jim Moore said he spoke with local insurance companies, and they told him the rates shouldn't go up if the protected class doesn't change, but it's possible some insurance rates might change.

He said the answers he got from the companies were "all over the board," and his feeling was the "rates are going up."

According to the staff report, insurance rates are determined by a variety of factors, including fire risk. But fire risk is different than fire hazard, the focus of the state's map.

"Fire hazard is based on factors such as fuel (material that can burn), slope, prevailing winds, historic fire activity, fire brand intrusion and fire weather," according to the staff report. "Fire risk considers the potential for damage based upon factors such as the ability of fire to ignite the structure, the flammability of the construction material and mitigation measures that reduce the risk. These mitigation measures include defensible space, building design, ignition-resistant building materials and ignition-resistant construction techniques. Ultimately, while it was not the intent to have insurance companies use the maps to set rates, it is likely that they are going to be used for that purpose..."

Mitigation factors

There are a number of mitigation factors of which homeowners should be aware.

According to the staff report these factors include disclosure of the zone during a sale of the property, new construction must meet California Building Code 7A requirements, maintenance of defensible space, removal of any portion of a tree that extends within 10 feet of a chimney or stovepipe, maintenance of any tree adjacent to or overhanging any building free from dead or dying wood and maintenance of the roof of any structure free of leaves, needles or other dead vegetative growth.

Moore told the council, "We have to implement the mitigating factors."

Chapter 7A requirements

The state building code would apply to new construction or changes to existing structures. The requirements include use of Class A roofing materials, attic and under-floor vents designed to minimize ember intrusion, exterior coverings on roof eaves, exterior porches and rafter tails, approve external wall coverings, tempered glass on exterior windows, 20-minute fire resistant rating for external doors and decking materials must meet the same requirements as walls or be enclosed, and no open structures may be under the deck.

Jared Hancock, city administrator, said the council has to adopt the zone map.

Copyright 2015 Lassen County Times, Susanville, California. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: November 3, 2015

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