Protecting Your Home From Wildfire

Protecting Your Home From Wildfire

>>Here we’re at a house that was exposed
to the crown fire that extends all the way around except for down the
canyon from the house. And the first impression
when you walk in here is that the crown fire obviously
caused this house to burn down and that this house didn’t stand a chance. But the one thing I want to point out right
away is that there’s quite a distance — well, there is a distance of clearing between
the trees and where the house is located. And I also want to point out the things that
are remaining, the things that are unconsumed in this scene that are between the house
and the crown fire as we pan across. There’s absolutely no doubt but what
this was an intense fire environment at the time that it burned. It burned extremely intensely. Now we’ll go up and we’ll take a look
at those things that still remain between the destroyed house and the
crown fire to see if we can get a sense of maybe what the heat exposure was to the house
from this crown fire and maybe get a clue as to at least categorically what
burned this house down. As you can see, we’ve got things that are
left between the house and this crown fire. And that can give us a clue as to what the
exposure was to the house from the crown fire. That is, how much heat the house
was getting from this crown fire. The first thing we’ll look
at is this rototiller. And the thing that I concentrated — well, the first thing that I did was I
made sure the rototiller wasn’t moved out here after the fire. So the indication there is the stuff that
is unburned right in a line up there. So I determined that this
was here during the fire. They had moved it out because it’s got gasoline
in the tank, it still has gasoline in the tank. And one of the things that I
noticed was the foam hand grips. They’re somewhat melted, but
they’re not totally melted. And the plastic on the ends are not melted,
nor is this plastic brake grip melted. And these are highly vulnerable
to high intensity heat. They would have been dripping off. They would have totally been melted away. The next thing that I looked at to give me a
clue as to how much energy and, oh by the way, let me just mention that this rototiller
is about 40 feet from the house, and it’s about 45 feet from where the
first trees are for the crown fire. So this didn’t receive enough heat to melt the
things that are highly sensitive to the heat. So we’ve got a clue here that this house
didn’t receive a sufficient amount of energy in order to ignite the wood siding. Let’s take a look at something
else, another side of the house. And I want to show you something over here. [ Pause ] Now, nine days ago this was wilted and green. That is the strawberries and the tomatoes. And there’s a gradient here, there’s a
diminishing amount of scorch all the way to just nothing but wilt in this garden. Here close to the crown fire we’ve
got the plants scorched and burned. And as we move across the garden
we see that we move into a location where the plants were just partially scorched
and mostly wilted to the point of where we get to the tomatoes, and although
you can’t really see it now that it’s been almost two weeks
later, there was no scorch on these tomatoes, there was only wilt. Obviously the tops were killed, and
there was deformation on this PVC, this polyvinyl little garden picket,
but there was no significant melting. So that is an important clue also. It takes much less energy in
order to deform and to melt vinyl than it does to ignite the side of this home. The next thing that I want to show
you is over here, this wood glider. And that’s a real important
clue for this side of the house. Now we’ve covered really one side of the house
that faces the crown fire, now let’s take a look at another side of the house
that faced the crown fire. The wood glider on this side, and
the question is, well, was it here? And indeed it was because we
can see the footprint here where it had been sitting while the crown
fire came through, and this was all green, by the way, instead of just that
little patch under the foot. So, in fact, it was here. And this side of the glider that’s facing
the crown fire isn’t at all scorched. And this is about 60 feet from
where most of the crown fire was, from the edge of where most
of the crown fire was. But when we go onto the house side of
this glider we notice that the burning of the house was sufficient to
cause the glider to continue to burn and finally burn through
it at one of the points. And the house side legs actually fell over. Now, what that also tells us is that
this house was burning considerably after this crown fire passed through the area. What ignited this house and burned
it down were the little things. Now, I don’t know exactly what those were
on this house, but the little things, the pine needles up next to
the wooden deck or on the deck. Perhaps even patio furniture. You’ll notice that they’ve got patio
furniture here on what was the deck. If there had been cushions on that patio
furniture that could have caught firebrands, ignited and burned the house down. [ Pause ] As you can see the crown fire came down the
creek and was a pretty continuous crown fire. It came across in front of
the house over here as well as on this side roughly to
the west of the house. It’s pretty extensive front of crowning. Don’t know exactly when each of the locations
crowned, but it’s a pretty good exposure. But the one thing that gives us a clue
that the house was a sufficient distance from the crown fire is that there is some
remaining vegetation that’s unconsumed. It’s certainly scorched but it’s
unconsumed which gives us a bit of a clue that the house had a chance of surviving at
least from the standpoint of igniting the wood. So let’s go up to the house and take a look at what characteristics may have
contributed to that survival. The first thing we’ve got that we can
see is that there’s a considerably amount of irrigated vegetation around the house. Also you can see in this particular area
we’ve got a rock berm, it’s nonflammable. We’ve got the sidewalk all the way around. And up in here next to the house also we’ve got
vegetation that doesn’t really represent fuel. These irises here really don’t represent a fuel. Even though we’ve got wood right here,
nevertheless these were irrigated and, yes, they wilted and have since over
the last nine days turned yellow. In other words we can still have plants next to
our house without them necessarily being fuel. Now, one of the things that I want
to point out is if it’s attached to the house it should be
considered part of the house. In this particular case when we’ve got wood
steps and wood decking and stairs we want to make sure that we understand that this is as
much a part of the house as the house itself. So what we want to make sure of is that
we’ve got irrigated lawn or vegetation that doesn’t represent fuel up next to it. One of the things that I want to point
out on this house that’s important is that they allowed sprinklers going
before the fire came down just prior. So there was a great deal of this that was wet. This is an important point because people
if they have the water supply, in fact, can put their sprinklers on, wet things down
which definitely inhibits the firebrands, the flying embers that can
potentially ignite this. And in this particular case that
would be the problem with this house, and that is we’ve got a lot of active crown
fire that’s producing a lot of lofted material, burning embers that can shower
down on this house and ignite multiple places around the house. And that’s what we really
want to be conscious of. With those people putting the sprinklers out
it just guaranteed that anything like that that might have been fuel ends up being
wetted such that it’s no longer fuel. The next thing that I want to look at is
the ponderosa pine that we’ve got here. Now, in and of itself it
doesn’t really represent fuel. It’s by itself, it’s a long
way away from the crown fire. There was scorching on it. But one of the huge problems with a tree like
this is that it deposits a tremendous amount of fine, dead needles around the
house as well as on the house. In this particular case this house as gutters. It has a gutter system which
particularly on this side of the house where the tree is overhanging the roof, the roof
is composition shingle so that’s not a problem with it igniting from needles, but the
gutter if it collects needles it can ignite from those lofted embers, and
it can start a fire right there at the eve edge right where
the roofing comes down. And let’s go around to this side of the house. Now, this is really an important
characteristic on this house. See how this is pushed out here? This is wood up under here, and
we’ve got siding coming down. This is an excellent thing to do. Basically you just remove all the
vegetation, all the potential fuel, and you take it down to something
that’s totally nonflammable. This is an incredibly vulnerable place on this
house if we have any fire underneath here. It’s not vulnerable from
that big crown fire out there that didn’t catch this side on fire anyway. But if we have anything that’s burning under
here this kind of a push out really traps fire. And once it can generate even glowing combustion
it’s very likely that that will develop, penetrate into the house and
involve the entire structure. Okay, let’s go around to the back
side and take a look at the back side. Okay, here is another good example. We’ve got wood plywood siding with a wood drip,
but we’ve got masonry wall, concrete foundation and very little vegetation, very little
anything that is going to create any flames that are going to ignite this wall. It’s basically a very fire-wise situation. This grass doesn’t burn with enough flames to
actually bridge across and produce enough heat to ignite the wall, and not only
that but anything that might ignite in here including piles of
firebrands that you can see here. This is a concrete and masonry wall,
and it really isolates this wood wall. And this wall is significantly far enough
away from any of the torching trees up there to keep it from igniting. One of the things that I want to point out
here with this boardwalk is, once again, if it’s attached to the house
it’s part of the house which means that if this outbuilding here was highly
susceptible to ignition as you’ll notice that they’ve got it rocked around the
bottom so that there is no vegetation, no flammables next to that structure. Not only if that structure was burning would
it jeopardize the house because it’s so close, but it could ignite this wood
walkway which over the amount of time that the conditions existed could come
down the walkway and right into the house. It would take maybe hours
to burn this house down, but when people came back they would
find their house totally destroyed just for something like this. Well, Sonny, here we’re at an area of
houses before potentially a fire is going to be coming here, and we’ll be taking a look
at how these structures might fare with fire. We’ll start off with this woodpile. Remember before I mentioned that anything
that’s attached to the home is part of the home. In this particular case what we’re
looking at is a huge amount of wood that is cribbed here underneath a
protection, but it’s pretty much attached in this particular case it’s to the garage. And this garage is in high jeopardy even though
they’ve got no vegetation and a rock foundation which protects really the log structure. And we’ve got quite a bit of clearance from
the canopy that might potentially ignite. Nevertheless we’ve got the wood pile here
that can catch firebrands that are lofted, potentially ignite that, and that
pretty well dooms this entire structure. Well, as we go along from the wood pile
which is not a good idea to be where it’s at, and we move along, they’ve been
doing some activity in here. And the activity of cleanup is a good idea. But one of the things that really needs to be
a concern is to not focus so much out there on the forest that you start
missing little things. It’s the little things that also
matter, and lots of little things. One little thing, for example,
might not be a significant problem, but lots of little things it’s
a little bit like a crap shoot. A small item is a low probability, but as you
increase the number of items that can ignite and potentially ignite the structure from
that you just have a higher likelihood of it burning the whole structure down. So, for example, here there’s been wood
cutting activity going on doing some clearing. But a lot of the chips have been left
right here underneath the wooden doors. And this potentially it’s pretty dry
material, and it’s been broken up so that it potentially could be an ignition bed
for firebrands, for those lofted burning embers. And if this flames it can begin then
to catch in this treated lumber. And it may not burn right away, but because of
the way the door is here it can begin to burn in the cracks, burn on both sides of the door,
and a few hours later consume the structure. They’ve put rocks in along
here that help out with regard to potentially blocking fire
from coming in here. But one of the things they haven’t done is
they haven’t screened under this decking. And as I mentioned before the
decking goes all the way around. Well, if we look at this garage it’s also
physically attached to the home back here. So this garage represents this home. One of the things that can happen is that we’ve
got a wood plate here that’s holding this brace that holds the rest of the deck, and there
are pine needles that have accumulated. In fact, lots of pine needles have
accumulated which can potentially then ignite, work its way up inside, potentially
catch the deck on fire, this walkway which can then potentially catch
the home on fire either through the garage or just follow the decking around. But here we come to the firewood
pile right on the front porch. And this is definitely a problem. It’s amazing how during a heavy firebrand
fallout, what I call a firebrand blizzard, how these woodpiles just continually
catch on fire just everywhere. And so this is a very serious problem. Let’s go over here and take a
look at some of the landscaping. One of the things that occurs with
junipers, and this really isn’t too bad because it’s been well irrigated,
and it’s still pretty small. And also it’s far enough away from the
house where it’s probably not a problem. But there are a lot of places where
much larger patches of juniper than this are right up against the house. And the huge problem is take a look
at all the dead material in here. The firebrands come in, they fall down and they
have a perfect mat of dead vegetation with which to ignite the rest of this shrub. Well, we’ve got some interesting
possibilities here with these junipers. The first thing is let’s
take a look at this one. The junipers here they’ve got a little
bit of dead material underneath them, but I don’t think that’s
going to be a huge problem. But the one right next to it is an
example of how these junipers can get. It’s I think a serious enough example to where
we can look at it and get a lesson from it. Look at all the fine material
up underneath here. And, of course, we’re bending over and getting
in here, but it takes nothing for firebrands to lodge under here and ignite this. Look at the dead grass and the juniper
needles that have deposited in here. This is a perfect ignition bed. This juniper can then begin to burn. Well, this green canopy is
close enough to this wood wall to where there easily could be
flames touching this wood wall. And most likely that’s going to
be enough to ignite this house. Now we have some other nooks and
crannies that we need to pay attention to. We’ll start here at the window
ledge which this inset window. One of the things that really needs
to be attended to is any deposition of needles that’s here in the window ledge. This can catch firebrands potentially. The needles have been dropping in here and
depositing which means that if needles drop in here and deposit that’s also going to be
where firebrands can drop in and deposit. So the firebrands drop in, they begin to
ignite the fine fuel bed of the needles, and that starts igniting in the cracks
of the window box with this fascia. But take a look at this. Up here in this crevice we’ve got all kinds
of material that’s collecting right here between this box and the side of the structure. Lots of fine fuel in here
to catch firebrands, ignite. Lots of cracks in here. We’ve got lots of gaps in here for it to
continue to ignite, even large wood chips. So this is an extreme problem. If a fire came through here, ignited
on this, burned the structure down, we’d look at this afterwards
and wonder how did this occur. Well, we’ve been talking about the
walls and the base of the house. We haven’t really hit on the roof yet
and the things that adjoin the roof. Now, in this particular case we’ve got
a metal roof which is nonflammable. If this roof were anything other
than flammable wood and, well, in some places even thatch believe it or
not, the roof is essentially nonflammable. But you know one of the things
that’s very interesting, if you look now this is a very steep roof. And so there isn’t anything that’s deposited
right up here next to this wood wall where the roof adjoins the wood wall. But I’ve seen in some cases where
the roof isn’t as steep a pitch, and there will be trees overhanging the roof,
and it will deposit needle material right up there on the roof next to that wood wall. And that needle material can
then ignite from firebrands and potentially start that wood wall on fire. [ Fire ] Most of the destroyed homes that I’ve
examined didn’t ignite from the big flames of the crown fires that pass through the area. They’ve mostly ignited from the small
ignitions on and around the home. That means that the homeowner can
do the things that are necessary to help their home survive those wildfires.

3 Replies to “Protecting Your Home From Wildfire”

  1. Two questions:
    (1) would it be possible to make my own firebrand machine and run my own tests?
    (2) would the fire department let me do that?

  2. People really need to watch this video. I suggest that if the homeowner was present during this fire, there is an excellent chance they could have saved it with little more than a garden hose ( the first house)

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