City looks to strengthen building codes to thwart fire danger

Citylooks to strengthen building codes to thwart fire danger

8 February 2007

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USA — Comenext building season, South Lake Tahoe homeowners and contractors may facestricter codes with the state deeming half of El Dorado County and much of thecity as an extreme fire risk.

The California Department of Forestry reclassifies the fire hazard map everythree to five years, signaling local government building officials to adoptcodes that coincide with the danger.

City Fire Marshal Ray Zachau brought the assessment to the City Council Tuesdayfor its acceptance, and the members agreed to send a letter of agreement. If not,it may have affected the ability to get grant funding from the state and federalgovernments.

The South Shore’s Gondola fire of 2002 was reported to have started by acigarette butt, and the Showers fire off Highway 89 ignited by a plane crash thefollowing year represent two recent examples in the region where residents werein danger of property loss, among other catastrophic casualties.

The city fire codes, with the exception of the Tahoe Keys,fall in a less stringent class that still allows shake roofs with a fireretardant-based treatment. El Dorado County bans them altogether.

“We’ll probably go to a Class A in six months,” said Ron Ticknor, citybuilding official.

The state has identified 18 communities in the county as “at risk” ofa major wildland fire due to a heavy fuel load. CDF is in the process, alongwith other jurisdictions, of clearing out the brush and overgrowth that placesresidents in danger. Residents are told to clear a 100-foot buffer zone fromstructures, 70 feet more than the prior requirement.

The increased fire-severity rating from the state may translate into a range ofmandates possibly including a total ban of wood shake roofs and wood siding.Requiring house sprinkler systems may also be explored by the city, which on themap is surrounded by an extreme fire hazard zone.

“That would be very expensive,” South Shore general contractor RayFernsten said of the latter. “Very seldom do people want shake roofs now.But a lot of people want wood siding. That would be a big issue,” he said.

While he doesn’t downplay ways to deal with the city’s firehazard, Fernsten reminded that building materials have gone up as much as 30percent in the last decade.

“It’s tough to make a living up here as a contractor,” he said.

At least homeowners insurance will probably not go up with the assessment. ButBob Anderson of Fromarc Insurance added the rates will probably not go downeither because they’re classified by the industry’s own rating that considersnumber of stations, response times and distances to the fire hydrants in variousareas.

“I think it’s overdue the city get up to date,” he said.

Anderson said the city falls in an ISO category No. 5 on a scale from 1 to 10,the latter being of the most in danger. As the Echo Lake community, Fallen Leafwas rated a 10 until a few years ago building a fire station placed it in a 4category.

The dialogue surfaced when Councilman Ted Long wonderedabout the impact on homeowners insurance. But Councilman Bill Crawford warnedthat, if a major crown fire covered the South Shore, residents won’t care abouta little higher rates.

If a major disaster occurs in the county, the local government has in place anoperational plan that deems local schools as shelters and provides contact namesand roles for the people appointed to assist the Office of Emergency Services.

OES Coordinator Marty Hackett said the county is avoiding telling residents andvisitors of specific routes out of the region as a standard evacuation planbecause every disaster comes with a different scenario.

“The whole emergency services world has changed. We used to put signs onstreets telling people where to go. As we learned from (Hurricane) Katrina andthe Southern California fires, the philosophy is to be situationally aware,”he said.

In the recent devastating San Diego County fire, 1,000 acres burned every hour.

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