Southern Oregon Fire’s Destruction of 1,748 Mobile Homes Exacerbates Affordable Housing Shortage
On September 8, the wind-driven Almeda fire ripped through the Highway 99 Rogue Valley corridor, breaking out just north of Ashland, Oregon, and roared through the small cities of Talent and Phoenix and into the outskirts of Medford, all in Jackson County.
Jackson County estimates that 2,357 residential structures were lost, and three quarters — an estimated 1,748 units — were manufactured homes in a dozen mobile home parks that line Oregon 99 and Interstate 5. Authorities estimate that some 3,000 residents were displaced; reported by Oregonian-Oregon Live on-line.
The rural mobile home parks were home to some of the area’s most vulnerable residents, Senior citizens, Latino families who work at local businesses and farms and attend local schools. Employees of businesses in Ashland can’t afford to live there but make it work in low cost manufactured homes to start building equity.
Fire experts say there are reasons why the destruction was so thorough in mobile home parks that hold lessons as residents look to rebuild. But in reality, the fire consumed structures of every kind. And for now, the loss simply exacerbates an existing affordable housing crisis.
Housing experts say mobile homes make up a big chunk of the state’s “naturally occurring affordable housing,” meaning they are affordable for those of modest means but unsubsidized by any federal program.
As typical and expected, “experts” cite the perceived cause of the fire’s devastation. Jack Cohen, a researcher at the U.S, Forrest Servicer’s Missoula Fire Safety Science Laboratory, says that while the result was tragic, it’s no surprise mobile homes burned with such intensity. He cited that mobile homes often have wooden windows, wooden decks, wooden fencing, and wooden skirting that can easily ignite. Thin walls and ceilings mean the fire can move rapidly through the interior!
“There’s no way we can call this a natural disaster,” Cohen said. It’s a human disaster associated with a natural disturbance.”
Chuck Carpenter, Executive Director of Manufactured Housing and communities, an advocate for mobile home park owners, says it’s unfair to call the mobile home parks fire traps. The state hasn’t lost one to fire in more than two decades. And the Almeda fire wasn’t choosy, he says, burning structures of all kinds.
“Nothing withstood this”, he said. “Everything went. And if anything was left standing it was by the grace of God. The fact that no one died is remarkable. That’s because these are communities and people look out for each other.”
FACTUAL STUDIES SHOW MANUFACTURED HOMES LESS SUSCEPTIBLE TO OCCASIONS OF FIRE THAN SITE-BUILT
The contention that manufactured homes are “tinder boxes” compared to other dwellings on the occasions of fires and flame spreads are myths that continue to be perpetuated. The following three studies and reports debunk those misrepresentations.
- A study issued by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) in July 2011 shows both the occurrence of fire and injury rate is lower in manufactured homes. One of the reasons for the superior fire safety lay in the high standards of flame spread requirements mandated by the HUD Code regulations that are more stringent than those set by the site-built IRC Code. (Note: Flame spread is a scaled number indicating a given material’s tendency to burn and create flames).
- A national fire study by the Foremost Insurance Company showed that site-built homes are more than twice as likely to experience a fire than manufactured homes. The study showed that the number of fires is 17 per 1000 for site-built homes, compared to only 8 per 1000 for manufactured homes!
- Another report titled “Manufactured Home Fires in the U.S. by John Hall, Jr., National Fire Protection Association, compared manufactured homes following the implementation of the HUD Code, and other dwellings, and found that the manufactured home fire experience rate was 38 to 44 percent lower than the rate of other dwellings.
Coincidently, it is unclear, but probable, that FEMA will provide some of those Oregon displaced victims with temporary housing, utilizing FEMA units — “HUD Code manufactured homes.”