Fire Safety and Your Home

Dave Mason License # 715338
51 Brookeline Dr Ph. 415-297-1489
Novato, California 94949

Fire Safety Emergency ; What can be done to protect your family and home from a raging wild fire ?

          The last few years have been record wild fire years for Northern and Southern California. Rising human population coupled with more and more housing built near wild land interfaces is a recipe for fire disasters.
When Autumn’s rare but powerful dry East winds come and a fire ignites it is nearly impossible for fire personnel to stop it before multiple homes are involved.
Wind, homes, wild land and fire means losses on a huge scale. Now what can be done.

A few years ago a wind whipped wild fire started near Middletown California, a precursor of this years Sonoma County disaster [ Due to Global Warming and the accompanying annual temperature increases catastrophic fires are becoming more common in Northern California ]. Due to many years of dry accumulated brush the fire quickly consumed many homes in Middletown and thousands of acres of surrounding forest and chaparral. Many structures were lost including much of the world famous Harbin Hot Springs facilities. I have been to Harbin many times camping and often wondered why the DRY chaparral forest was allowed to creep in so close to the wood buildings on the expansive property, it actually made me nervous as all it would take is a spark and many visitors would be trapped by flames.

I was not surprised that Harbin succumbed to the flames in the recent fire of 2015, but was this necessary. I decided to do some research and see if this area had catastrophically burned before in modern times, and yes it had. 30-40 years ago the Harbin area had burned in a similar wildfire. So what is going on?

It seams we as a society are not facing the facts that wild lands WILL burn every thirty - forty years or so no matter what we due to prevent it. This is a natural cycle that has kept the land, forests and chaparral healthy for millions of years long before we got here. We must now make changes to protect our homes or face unacceptable losses. Native Americans lived in harmony with these forests even as they naturally periodically burned so what can we do today to live safely with nature?

Here are my thoughts on what can be done ;

  1. Encourage your State fire professionals to conduct controlled burns -
  2. Install fire resistant Stucco or Hardie plank siding finish on all home exteriors
  3. Install a fire resistant roof -
  4. Install one hour plus fire rated glass windows, or double pane with metal frames -
  5. Wood trim of Redwood or concrete based material [ redwood is fire resistant ]
  6. Fire resistant paints -
  7. Keep flammable trees at least 100 ft away from your home -
  8. Plant fire resistant trees and plants anywhere within 100 ft of the home
    [ Google Search lists of these plants ] -
  9. Plant Grass and or rock gardens around the home as a fire buffer -
  10. Install a swimming pool, 4 foot depth is fine. The pool can be used as a last resort to save yourself from the flames and heat -
    A pool can also be used as a reservoir of water to pump from in an emergency
  11. Install large permanent Rain Bird type brass sprinklers on your roof capable of wetting down the entirety. The sprinklers should be connected to the emergency [ Pool ] water supply with the capability to be remotely activated by phone or by hand. Many house fires start because thousands of hot embers fall on the roof as they are blown off burning structures. [ Even tile roofs may catch fire this way ]

If your budget allows install an emergency pool pump system capable of delivering high pressure and volume. This high pressure water could be used in a on site fire hose as well as pre installed roof sprinklers.

If you use city water for sprinklers turn them off after the structure is wet down.
This will help keep nominal, and necessary, city water pressure available to fire fighters.

The main defense from fire is proper fire resistant construction, structure spacing and landscaping, giving fire professionals a chance to save your property. You can still have attractive but fire resistant plants near the home. If you keep combustibles away from the home and your roof and walls are fire resistant you have a chance to save your home should fire come. If you live near wild land I highly recommend installing a swimming pool, it will give peace of mind and could save your life.

These ideas are strongly recommended should you live within two or three miles of forested wild lands.
Wild fires move extremely fast when the wind is ripping, giving very little time to evacuate. [ sometimes forty miles and hour or more horizontal movement ]. Your fire preventative measures must be installed beforehand so they can do their job protecting your property with you not around. If a fire is imminent turn on your sprinkler system and get away as fast as safely possible. Wind swept fire quickly spreads smoke and burning debris making late escape dangerous and sometimes impossible. If a fire is within a mile of your home it is time to go -

addendum ; Recent record fires in the Sonoma - Santa Rosa Area, the worst in California history, support the fact that we are entering a new era for wild land interface risk for neighborhoods.

I continue to survey the fire zones and have found that these fires burned very very hot [ due to high winds and dry conditions ]. Hot enough to ignite cars fifty to sixty feet away from any ignition source and crack concrete foundations and walkways. The higher the wind speed the hotter the fire and the faster it transfers its heat and radiation.

This paper was started after the Middletown fire and completed just after the Sonoma Napa fires of October 2017.
I believe we will see more of these types of fires as global warming continues to mature.
The measures I have highlighted in this paper will mitigate the chances of such devastation occurring in the future.

Dave Mason 12/05/17

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