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Wildfire study shows how to protect homes

July 22, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Institute for Business & Home Safety, an arm of the insurance industry, studied the destructive Witch Creek Wildfire in San Diego, which happened in 2007. The Institute found that flying embers caused the most damage to homes, rather than direct contact with the wildfire itself."Embers, remember, are burning items ... fire brands that are fed by oxygen. And the Santa Ana winds are oxygen," said Julie Rochman, Institute for Business & Home Safety.

The Institute produced an animation that showed how easy it is for embers to cause widespread destruction. In that animation, a wooden jungle gym catches fire, which sets the home ablaze. Embers can also find their way into gutters and underneath the roof openings.

"Where that single house survived, without exception, it's because the homeowner had taken effective loss prevention steps. Their windows, their siding, their roofs, their defensible space, their vegetation," said Rochman.

While California began requiring all new homes in fire-prone areas be built with ignition-resistant materials, there are millions not subjected to the new codes.

The insurance industry just published a guide spelling out how owners of older homes can incorporate those safety measures. In the guide, the Institute points to entire neighborhoods in San Diego County built using ignition-resistant materials. Not one of those houses burned.

The study also had a message to developers: Homes built at least 45 feet apart were more likely to survive a fire, and those built 15 feet or closer were less likely to survive a fire.

Cal Fire knows residents and home builders can do their part to help firefighters.

"We don't have to have as many fire trucks go out. We don't endanger our people so often. And they're able to put the fire out rather than protect the houses," said Dave Hillman, Cal Fire.

 

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