Proposed building regulation aims to help prevent the spread of fire

information released by Chelan County, photos from LCN archives

Chelan County commissioners will hold a public hearing on May 10 to take comments on the proposed Wildland-Urban Interface Code, a new building regulation that aims to help prevent the spread of fire in those developed areas of the county that intermingle with undeveloped wildlands.

Chelan County Fire Marshal Stephen Rinaldi, who was directed by commissioners last year to draft the code, reviewed similar codes passed by the cities of Wenatchee and Leavenworth, whose codes already apply to construction in the cities’ urban growth areas. The draft code also meets the guidelines of the International Wildland-Urban Interface Code.

At a workshop with commissioners on May 3, Rinaldi spoke of the “hardening” of structures to improve resiliency of property in case of a fire. These measures can help reduce the higher risk of damages from wildland fires that have caused some insurance policies to not be renewed for some county residents.

Wildfires typically pass through an area in a matter of minutes; however, if a home begins to burn, its combustible materials create fire brands and embers that then ignite other surrounding structures, which is something the area saw in the 2015 Sleepy Hollow Fire that burned some two dozen homes. In addition, flaming embers can easily travel as far as 2 miles or more from the active front of a wildfire, Rinaldi said.

The draft code focuses on fire-resistant building materials and building practices that can better prevent wildfires. It has conditions for eaves, gutters, soffits, exterior walls, siding, chimneys and more. It would prohibit the new installation of wood shake and wood shingle roofs throughout the county.

The draft code also calls for structures that are more than 150 feet off of an access road to have driveways and those that exceed 150 feet to have turnarounds at the end for emergency response vehicles, such as fire engines. Structures that are more than 1,000 feet in length and less than 20 feet in width shall provide turnouts and turnarounds, according to the draft code.

As the draft code is written currently, it would apply to any new construction in the county coming after the adoption date. It would also apply to any buildings undergoing renovations that would replace over 12 months 50 percent or more of a component to the structure. For example, if a roof was being replaced, the new roofing material would have to meet the proposed code.

The hearing will be at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, May 10, at 400 Douglas St. Commissioners are not expected to take action on the code at that time. The draft code is available online.