How to Protect Your Home from Wildfires Using Lessons Learned from Setting Two Small Houses On Fire – NBC Bay Area
NBC Bay Area Responds got a front-row seat to a stunning display of the power of wildfires — to destroy your home. Firefighters, engineers and insurance companies hope the display will inspire you to reduce your fire risks – and help you keep your home insured.
No red flag warning. However, the raging flames still consumed a makeshift home. It’s engulfed in flames. However, Cal Fire crews standing just feet away are in no hurry to put out the fire. Today they are spectators.
To explain why, let’s go back about 12 minutes.
This is “The Brickyard,” a fire training facility in Sacramento. Our visit to “The Brickyard” could change the look of your front and back yard.
Anne Cobb, Ph.D., is part of a consortium of building engineers, fire professionals, and insurance groups that built two tiny homes side by side. Their goal is to burn them. Well, one of them.
The point here is that the “wildfire prepared” house on the right was doing things right: fire-resistant siding, defensible space, sealed eaves, metal fencing where it meets the house, and no plants next to the walls.
“Everything within those first five feet is noncombustible,” noted Cobb, who works at the Building and Home Safety Institute.
But the house on the left was intentionally left to burn. It has traditional, easily combustible wood siding, co-mulch touching the sides, old-school picket fencing, shrubbery right to the wall, and open eaves.
“So if anything burns underneath, all that heat will go to the structural parts,” Cobb said.
Like the ceiling.
After a short introduction, firefighters fanned small flames in both homes at the same time.
Within about 12 minutes, a smoky, loud, and unmistakable difference emerges.
The fire on the left burned so hard, so fast, that it temporarily overheated our cameras—even though we were several yards away. The house collapsed while our cameras were cooling.
The engineers knew exactly how this would happen. literally. They knew the house on the right would survive because they had done this demonstration in the lab and written research papers. Now, they’re taking this dramatic show on the road – for you.
“It’s one thing to be able to read about best practices,” California Fire Marshal Daniel Berlant said.
“It’s something else to see,” he continued. “So, we wanted to bring it to Californians and let them see it for themselves.”
“I personally have had two fires in the last three years,” Berlant said.
One thing surprised us about this controlled burn. Bush in front of the house on the left.
“We think: they are green, which means they are alive. We water them, so they will be able to resist fire. But that is not the case,” Berlant continued.
The demonstration proved this point. The green bush caught fire. I burned down the fence and then burned down the house. Berlant says you should learn from this live-fire exercise: Move all plants at least 5 feet from your house — even if heirloom plants have been rooted nearby for years or decades.
NBC Bay Area Responds got a front-row seat to a stunning display of the power of wildfires — to destroy your home. Firefighters, engineers and insurance companies hope the display will inspire you to reduce your fire risks – and help you keep your home insured. Raj Mathai speaks with Chris Chmura about this.
“We know it’s not going to be easy, but science shows us that those first five feet are very important,” Berlant said.
Before the fire, Anne Cobb shot it while giving us a tour of the two homes.
“Even though this plant is beautiful, healthy and green, it will definitely catch fire,” she said.
In fact, all the lush vegetation was burned.
“The science is right,” said Karen Collins of the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, which represents the insurance companies that insure our homes.
Some insurers are leaving California, others are dropping customers in higher-risk fire areas, or raising premiums. They blame massive losses and fires that don’t seem to stop.
If homeowners collectively embrace the lessons learned here and reduce risks, more insurers may resume offering home insurance policies in California, Collins says.
“We can be more resilient to wildfires,” Collins said. “And together, individual homes, at the community level, we can meaningfully reduce our losses which can positively impact the California insurance market.”
Ultimately, the “wildfire prepared” house on the right was so damaged that firefighters could reuse it — and the large sign above it.
Fire Marshal Berlant told us California will require contractors to build and landscape new homes like this one. He says you should do the same with your home no matter its age.
“It’s just not something we advise people to do. Destroying that house or yours makes a difference when there’s a wildfire,” Berlant said.
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(marks for translation) California