Starting March 1, wood shake roofs will no longer be allowed on homes in Jackson Hole’s wildland-urban interface.
The Teton County Board of County Commissioners voted Tuesday to prohibit such roofs in forested areas where wildfires are a risk. Fire Marshal Kathy Clay recommended that commissioners approve the measure to make Teton County “a more resilient wildland fire community.”
“We are stressed here with lots of UV light and very dry conditions,” Clay said. “We have rain with snow. We have hail. And all of those make a detrimental impact on the fire resistance of a wood shake shingle over time.”
But opponents urged commissioners to delay or defeat the amendment and to learn more about fireproof options for wood shake roofs.
Wooden shakes can be made noncombustible through a chemical process, according to Jordan Craig, a senior project manager at Pie Consulting and Engineering, making them comparable to other fire-resistant roofing materials.
“Instead of just flat-out banning this material, get engineers and architects involved,” Craig said. “Get the proper roof systems designed so that way you have a roof system that will perform just as well as any other roofing material out there.”
Jackson resident Steve Markeson, who has three decades of experience fighting wildfires, recognized the availability of fire-treated wooden roofs but countered the claim that their protection lasts. He said homeowners fail to regularly maintain their roofs in accordance with the highest levels of fire protection.
“Wood shake roofs do increase fire risk in our communities, and that’s regardless of how they’re designed,” he said. “In the last year I conducted about 300 risk evaluations through Teton Area Wildfire Protection Coalition in the wilderness resource group, and many of the roofs that were designed by assembly or impregnated with fire-resistant chemicals years ago were no longer fire-resistant.”
Bill Hendricks, owner of the California company Safer Building Solutions — a consulting company representing fire-resistant building materials — had different evidence to prove that treated roofs do last. Hendricks contributed to the 2018 International Wildland-Urban Interface Code.
“Here in California, to even bypass the ASTM test, we had to go through a natural weathering test, which we have passed,” he said, “and we have also taken 22-year-old shingles off of roofs and had them fire-tested — and they performed.”
Others opposing the amendment proposed another approach to mitigate risks. Class A roof assemblies — a classification given to roofs most effective against fires — require an underlayer beneath treated wooden shingles, said Teton County resident and architect Tom Taylor. They must pass tests evaluating flame penetration, flame spread and the propensity for the roof to become dislodged and generate embers.
“Our entire code should just simply require A Class roof assembly,” Taylor said to commissioners, rather than banning wood shake roofs.
When Commissioner Greg Epstein questioned Clay and Jackson Hole Fire/EMS Chief Brady Hansen about the idea, Clay said there were still risks.
“A Class A assembly may keep the house from burning down, but with an old shake shingle, that roof will still burn,” Clay responded.
Commissioners Epstein and Mark Barron voted against the amendment, calling for a study of Class A assemblies and roof treatments first. Commissioners Natalia D. Macker, Luther Propst and Mark Newcomb voted for it.
Wildfires throughout the West are becoming deadlier and more frequent, Propst said, making the amendment “first and foremost a public safety issue.”
Teton County has experienced some “close calls,” Propst said, which compelled him to support the amendment.
However, given the public discussion, such an amendment should only be seen as a first step in ensuring fire resiliency in the most vulnerable areas, Propst added. Commissioner Newcomb expressed a similar intent, noting that a follow-up discussion on Class A roof assemblies should occur “as soon as possible.”
“What’s in front of us is not the final answer, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Propst said.