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Fire Resistant Building with Ignition-resistant Construction

Construction methods are critical to preventing loss of property during firestorms.

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wildfire disaster prevention in California communities
wildfire disaster prevention in California communities
California cannot avoid wildfires, but proper building techniques have proved to greatly reduce the threat to homes and businesses. Fire safety experts said Stevenson Ranch, and other modern communities like it, have made their own luck.

Precautions used there include fire-resistant materials such as concrete roof tiles, double-paned heat-resistant windows and enclosed eaves. A 200-foot greenbelt with fire-resistant plantings rings the property.

Additional buffers of stone and concrete culverts were constructed behind properties adjacent to canyons and other open land.

In Orange County firefighters kept a raging 18,000-acre blaze from newer planned communities in Foothill Ranch, Irvine and Lake Forest.

But a significant number of California communities remain far short of such standards. Nearly 5 million homes in the state are at high to extreme risk from wildfires, and 84% of them are in urban areas abutting areas designated as wildlands, according to a report by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

That report was published in October 2003, the month deadly fires swept through the state and into backyards of Stevenson Ranch homes.

Higher standards will soon be required of all new building statewide, at least in the zones where fire risk is highest.

New Wildland Building Standards Tied to Fire Hazard Zones Prompt Statewide Map Update

The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) is re-mapping fire hazard severity zones for lands where the State has fiscal responsibility for wildland fire protection (State Responsibility Area) and is preparing Very High Fire Hazard Severity recommendations for local responsibility areas. Information

California Building Standards in Fire Hazard Zones

The California Building Standards Commission in September 2007 approved standards recommended by the state fire marshal for buildings in fire hazard zones.

Those requirements are to go into effect in January 2008 in areas under state control, and after that date, any new permits issued in such zones will require that the new standards be met. Watch introductory video on the new codes and fire hazard map

  • 100 feet of defensible space
  • Prevent embers from entering structures
    • Ignition resistant siding and decking
    • Double-paned windows
    • Ember resistant eaves and wall vents
    • Enclosed overhanging decks

wildfire disaster prevention in California communities
New 2007 Fire Hazard Area Maps will measure and show what makes areas hazardous: Fuel, Slope of land, and Fire Weather. Building strategies that will be required include: Defensible space, irrigation and sprinklers to cope with fire behavior characteristics that include rate of spread, length of flames, and ability to produce firebrands or embers

Burn probability is the average chance of a fire burning in any given year. It is based on fire records spanning the last 55 years. Wildland and Urban Zones vary, with Urban Zoning based on distance to wildland zones and flame score for that zone; number of firebrands being produced and received in the urban area; and the amount of fuels present in the urban zone.

The distance of a hazard zone into urban zone can be 200' to a mile in high hazard zones. More info is available at the CAL FIRE website

These new codes include provisions for ignition resistant construction standards in the wildland urban interface. The updated fire hazard severity zones will be used by building officials to determine appropriate construction materials for new buildings in the wildland urban interface. The updated zones will also be used by property owners to comply with natural hazards disclosure requirements at time of property sale. It is likely that the fire hazard severity zones will be used by local government as they update the safety element of general plans.

Given the state's limited firefighting resources stringent requirements are needed. As the devastation the October fire made clear, there are too few fire crews to fight blazes block by block.

"Defensible space assumes someone is going to be there defending the house," he said. "In my opinion, the home has to be survivable, and that means ignition-resistant construction that protects structures from radiant heat and embers."


CAL FIRE website

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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