Oregon Wildfire Risk Map Meeting Goes Online After Threat; some frustrated “high risk” owners

“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 they had to push their community meeting about it online due to a verbal threat.

Derek Gasperini, head of public affairs at ODF, confirmed the threat to NewsChannel 21 on Wednesday.

“We understand the concern,” Gasperini said. “We’ve just been surprised by the threats against people just trying to share information with the affected community.”

On Wednesday night, he hosts a community meeting on the new Oregon Explorer interactive fire danger map, created by his department, the Forest Service and OSU.

Since the card’s launch in June, his department has received numerous questions – and even a threat has been sent, making the meeting virtual.

“I don’t know if they’re related, and I don’t know the caller’s motivation 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 into the “high” or “extreme” risk category within the nature-urban interface boundary, you will need to meet space code and defensible space code requirements.

The code is expected to be drafted by the state fire marshal’s office by December and go into effect next April.

“State fire marshals aren’t ready with ticket books to go out and start fining people,” Gasperini said. “They really want people to understand what defensible space means and have the ability 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, director of Century Insurance in Bend, said, “We have a fire season here in central Oregon, and insurance companies – 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 downright uninsurable or the premium is outrageous,” Epple said.

However, not all companies use the same system.

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

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

“It would be fantastic if (insurance) companies used this new map that was developed by people in our state,” Epple said.

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

“There is no intention, as far as I know, to standardize this map for insurance purposes,” Gasperini said.

The virtual meeting is being held via Zoom from 7-8 p.m. Wednesday. Join the meeting via this link: https://odf.zoom.us/j/97802419789.