Insurers Pressing Oregon Landowners to Take Wildfire Prevention Measures

August 17, 2009

Insurance companies have begun telling some policyholders in Eastern Oregon to protect their buildings against wildfires, say industry and government officials.

One Oregon Department of Forestry official said he’s been doing wildfire risk assessments for three decades, and this is the first year he’s ever done one because an insurer insisted on it.

“They are actually sending inspectors out to properties to look at defensible space. In some cases, they are requiring customers to make changes to their properties,” said Darrin Sanger, communications director for the Oregon Insurance Council.

In most cases, Sanger said, insurers require homeowners to remove brush and other highly combustible vegetation near homes, trim tree branches near the ground to prevent flames from climbing into the crowns of trees and thin overcrowded stands of trees.

“Customers who don’t make changes in 60 to 90 days could face higher premiums or cancellations,” he said.

Foresters say a century of fire suppression, clear-cutting and other practices has left the forests dense and deteriorating, increasing fire risks.

Keith Shollenberger of the Oregon Department of Forestry office in Baker City said he got two requests this year from forest landowners who’d been contacted by their insurance companies.

“I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, and in all those years I have never gone out to do a risk assessment required by an insurance company before,” Shollenberger said.

Bob Parker, Oregon State University Extension forester for Baker County, said some landowners can’t afford fire mitigation and thinning projects due to the recession, low prices for log prices and the lack of markets for the small logs and slash that such projects usually produce.

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