Of homes lost to wildfires, the vast majority could have been saved if their owners had only followed a few simple fire-safe practices. In fact, most structures are lost to small wildfires rather than large ones, according to Dan Cuccia, property claims director at Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. Accordingly, the fire service recommends a wildfire strategy focused on compliance with current fire codes, fire resistant construction and creating defensible space around structures.
Based upon the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA®) Standard 1144, there are several key areas you should focus on to prepare your home for a possible wildfire.
Embers. Wildfires generate high winds that can carry small burning embers for many miles beyond the fire lines. These embers can penetrate attic vents, soffits and other openings. Embers can even collect on complex roof surfaces, such as shingles or tiles where they can smolder, undetected, and can eventually cause buildings to burn from the inside out. This is why it is vital to seal roofing materials and block attic vents and eves.
“Ember exposure is considered the most important threat to properties in a wildfire, primarily because they can occur well outside of the fire line and away from where firefighting attentions may be focused,” said Stephen L. Quarles, PhD, senior research scientist at IBHS. “Embers can ignite combustible building components and contents directly, or ignite vegetation and other combustible items located adjacent to or near a building. Once ignited, this material can expose a home or business to radiant heat and direct contact with flames.”
Radiant Heat. It shouldn’t be a surprise that a raging wildfire can reach incredibly high temperatures. An average surface fire on the forest floor might produce flames reaching 3 feet high and can reach temperatures of 1,472°F or more. Under extreme firestorm conditions, a fire can produce flame heights of 164 feet or more with temperatures exceeding 2,192°F. When you consider that the flash point of wood, or the temperature at which it will burst into flame, is 572°F, even a minor grass fire can ignite a wooden shed, wood pile or other untreated structures on your property.
Similarly, and perhaps more obviously, direct flame can easily ignite the wood siding on a home. In both cases, the use of gel or foam fire-retardant chemicals applied to these surfaces adds a protective barrier that provides some protection against direct flame and radiant heat. This technique is popular amongst insurance carriers who provide private fire protection to their policyholders in WUI areas. However, the practice is largely unproven in wildfire scenarios and can even cause damage to materials when applied.
Defensible Space. To protect against radiant heat and direct contact with flames, homeowners should provide a clear line of defense for any approaching wildfire. Many jurisdictions have written the responsibility of defensible space into code, because it is widely recognized that cleared defensible space is critical to saving homes and lives from wildfire. Your insurance carrier may require you to abide by a set of mitigation standards in order to write your policy – or offer reduced premiums.
is publication provides general information and/or recommendations that may apply to many different situations or operations. Any recommendations described in this publication are not intended to be specific to your unique situation or operation and are not intended to address all possible hazardous conditions or unsafe acts that may exist. Consult with your staff and specialists to determine how and whether the information in this publication might guide you in specific plans for your situation or operations. Additionally, this article does not substitute for legal advice, which should come from your own counsel.