Wildfire is coming - Is your home ready?
The Kenwood Press is presenting a new series on fire protection for local residents, excerpted from the Cal Fire Ready, Set, Go! program. The program is heartily endorsed by Kenwood Fire Chief Daren Bellach and fire professionals nationwide. These practical tips can save your life, your loved ones, and your property if and when another disaster strikes. Explore the information in more detail at www.readyforwildfire.org/Ready-Set-Go-Campaign, or take these tips to heart as we move forward into a warmer, drier future.
The premise is: Be Ready - be fire-adapted and ready; Be Set - have situational awareness; and Go! - act early. Each issue, we'll dive down and explore what that really means, to help you take some action.
Be Ready! Tip #2 - Harden your home In the wildfires, embers were shot through the air by high winds, directly igniting structures. They also created fires by landing on fences and shrubs beside houses, ultimately igniting them. “Harden” your home now before a fire starts by using ember-resistant building materials.
Roof The roof is the most vulnerable part of your home. Homes with wood or shingle roofs are at high risk of being destroyed during a wildfire. The most inexpensive type of roof is composite (or asphalt) roofing. Some new asphalt roofing products have greater fire resistance than that of decades past. However, much more fire-resistant materials include metal roofing, slate, tile, or concrete roof tiles, all of which have excellent fire ratings.
Eaves and vents The main problem with overhanging eaves during a wildfire is that since flames rise, burning materials next to the house can catch the eaves and/or roof rafters on fire, and the house can burn from the top down. One defense against this is to use stucco or fiber-cement board to box in the eaves and rafters. Another option, though somewhat less effective, is to paint the underside of the eaves with a fire resistant paint.
Vents on homes create openings for flying embers. Foundation and roof venting that is specially made for fire resistance is available. One of the easiest and cheapest ways to add fire resistance to a home is to cover all vents with a screen to prevent embers from entering the house. Fine screen is better and should have openings that are _-inch maximum.
Windows Heat from a wildfire can cause windows to break even before the home ignites. This allows burning embers to enter and start fires inside. Single-paned and large windows are particularly vulnerable. Dual-pane windows are insulated and are much more resistant against breaking in heat. Install dual-paned windows with one pane of tempered glass to reduce the chance of breakage in a fire. Wood, wood clad with aluminum, and fiberglass window frames have done well in flame tests, and are better than vinyl, which has the possibility of melting in extreme heat. Acrylic skylights tend to melt and allow fire penetration.
Exterior siding Wood products, such as boards, panels or shingles, are common siding materials. However, they are combustible and not good choices for fire-prone areas. Stucco and fiber-cement exteriors are two of the most fire resistant siding materials. Stucco is excellent at resisting ignition and its smooth finish does not catch flying embers. Fiber-cement siding (such as “Hardie plank”) has also performed well in fire testing, although its performance appears to be highly dependent on the installation configuration of the boards. Other good siding options, although more rarely used in California, are stone, brick, exposed concrete and concrete block.
Decks Most wood species used for decks do not resist fire very well, and many just add fuel to an already raging fire. If wood must be used for an exterior deck, then using fire-retardant treated lumber is one option. Another is to apply a fire retardant wood sealer. There are two good alternatives to wood: construct the deck from fire resistant wood composite materials, or cover the deck with tile or stone. And don't forget to remove all combustible items from underneath your deck.
Walls and fencing Concrete block, poured concrete or stucco walls are the best wall option between properties to stop the spread of fire. In last year's Nuns fire, untreated wood fences caught fire, provided fuel, and spread the fire from property to property. Wood fences are generally much less expensive than masonry or stucco. So if wood fences are used, they should be treated with fire retardant paint or coatings. Since these coatings lose their effectiveness over time, however, they need to be retreated every two to five years. Vinyl fences do not perform well under the intense heat and flame of wildfires.
Driveways and access roads Driveways should be built and maintained in accordance with state and local codes to allow fire and emergency vehicles to reach your home. Kenwood Fire Chief Daren Bellach said that in Sonoma Valley, this means maintaining a 15-foot clearance on either side of your driveway for equipment to get through.
Gates During the October fires, some gates became stuck when the electricity went out. Bellach recommends that you ensure that all gates open inward and are wide enough to accommodate emergency equipment. If a gate opens outward, put a sign on it so fire personnel know. Get a battery back up in case the electricity goes out - some battery back ups will ensure the gate stays open when the power goes out.
Address numbers The bottom line is to make sure your street address is visible to fire personnel. Bellach says to aim for four-inch tall letters, with a 2 1/2-inch stroke, on reflective, contrast backing. If you'd like, the Kenwood Firefighters Association will make you a sign for $25. You can contact the Kenwood Fire Department at 833-2042 for more details.
Water and well When your power goes out, your well will go out, too. Ensure you have a back-up water source or generator to keep your water moving. In some cases during last year's Nuns fire, plastic water tanks melted from the heat of the flames and were rendered inaccessible to firefighters. If you do have a water tank at your home, trim up vegetation and trees around your water tank, 30 feet is ideal, says Bellach, so things around it don't catch on fire and melt the tank. If you do have a water tank on site, place a reflective blue marking next to your address, or gate, or fence; this alerts the fire department that there is water accessible onsite.
Fire resistant landscaping Fire resistant landscape uses fire-resistant plants that are strategically planted to slow the spread of fire to your home. Select high-moisture plants that grow close to the ground and have a low sap or resin content. However, there are no “fire-proof” plants. Check your local nursery, landscape contractor or county's UC Cooperative Extension service for advice on fire-resistant plants that are suited for your area.
Mark Bunte, owner Sonoma Valley Landscape, said the best tip they have been recommending, after hearing from friends whose homes burned, is to keep a space at least two and half to three feet from the side of your house or wooden fence that is free of any mulch or woodchips, which are flammable and provide an avenue for smoldering embers to get to your walls or fences. On his own property, Bunte has cleared mulch away from his house and is rebuilding his fence with metal poles connected by metal wire, a much more fire resistant material. Also, said Bunte, for those rebuilding, take this opportunity to add more hose bibs around your property. PVC pipe is cheap and easy to run before landscape is planted.
What about a neighbor?Although you might be serious about taking the necessary precautions, not everyone might be so diligent. If you have concerns about the fire-safety of a property in your neighborhood, you can call CalFire to inspect the property - if it's in the State Response Area (SRA). Visit the CalFire website to verify if an address falls within the SRA. If the property is outside the SRA, there is not much you can do other than ask nicely.
Next issue, we'll talk about what you need to do to prepare yourself and your family in case a fire happens.
Editor's note: In December 2017 Kenwood resident and architect Brian Torone wrote a series of articles for this newspaper summarizing some of the most significant preventative measures that can be taken as put forth by architects, firefighters and industry experts to make your home fire-resistant. Many of these tips are excerpted from those articles.