Fire demonstration shows survivability of structures with at least 5 feet of absolute clearance

Rob McMillan Image
Tuesday, September 19, 2023
Demo shows survivability of homes with 5 ft. of absolute clearance
California wildfires have grown more destructive in recent years and that's making insurance companies more reluctant to offer fire coverage. However, there is one thing homeowners can do to make their home less vulnerable.

IRVINE, Calif. (KABC) -- A live wildfire burn demonstration in Irvine showed the difference between a fire-hardened home with absolute clearance of 5 ft. around the structure compared to one without proper precautions.

The demonstration was sponsored by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety at the Orange County Fire Authorities headquarters and training facility.

One structure built specifically for the demonstration featured a 5-foot-wide hardscape between the building and surrounding desert-friendly landscaping with bark chips, as well as enclosed eaves at the roofline and a rod-iron fence attached to the structure.

The second structure, meant to simulate a home where proper precautions, were not taken, had bushes and bark chips in a planter leading right up to the side of the home, as well as an attached wooden fence and non-covered eves.

Firefighters then used blowtorches to light fire to the bark chips around both structures, and activated large area fans to simulate 10 mph winds.

After less than 30 minutes, the plants surrounding the fire-hardened home were still burning. But 5 ft. of absolute clearance meant the structure itself was virtually untouched.

But the other structure was a total loss.

"The biggest difference is the 5 ft. closest to the house," said Roy Wright, CEO of the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. "Yes, there's open eaves on the bad house, there's flammable combustible siding, and there's a fence that goes up next to it.

"But what ultimately brought the fire up there is the mulch and the plants five feet next to the house."

Also at the demonstration was California's Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara.

"Today just reconfirms the importance of home hardening and mitigation," said Lara, who added that homeowners in fire-prone areas would need to be much more proactive in protecting their properties as more and more insurance carriers drop policies in California.

"Insurance companies are businesses; they're not utilities and they're not required to write policies," said Lara. "We need to make sure we work with insurance companies, work with our neighbors and bring down that risk, that's how we keep insurers writing in the communities."

Lara said not only are insurance companies now required to offer discounts to homeowners who take proper precautions, but state law will soon require all homeowners living in fire-prone areas to make changes to their properties to ensure five-feet of absolute clearance around their homes.

"It's life-changing. Just these little changes you can make as we're about to enter our fire season can make a huge difference."