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The incidence of large, uncontained wildfires and bushfires has increased in recent years in many countries including North America and Australia. These fires have had a catastrophic effect on both urban and agricultural areas and resulted in devastating loss of lives and properties. Wildfires have a rapid forward rate of spread and can move as fast as 6.7 mph (10.8 km/h) in forests and 14 mph (22 km/hr) in grasslands, increasing to fire tornadoes with speeds of more than 50 mph (80 km/hr), making them extremely difficult to contain. In California alone, in 2018 the wildfires have burnt about 2 million acres, resulting in the loss of over 100 lives and the destruction of over 22,000 structures.
Wildfires predominantly occur in the Wildland Urban Interface (“WUI”) which is a geographic location where structures and flammable vegetation merge in a wildfire-prone environment, resulting in fires devastating to both lives and properties. WUI areas include all structures either built or being built in low to highly forested or vegetated areas including high density housing areas.
There are many ways to help hardening structures against wildfires and bushfires, starting with improved vegetation management and a higher level of preparedness. Additionally, California has made changes to its building codes as to the hardening of building structures, including improved requirements for protection of roofs, sidings, eaves, soffits, underfloor projections and porch overhangs, as well as use of fire-rated vents. Those new standards are codified in the WUI regulations, as prescribed in the California Building Standards Code Section 704A.
Adequate defensible spaces based on selection, placement and maintenance of vegetation within a reasonable distance (100 feet if available) of building structures.
Removal of dry, combustible material such as dead trees, grass clippings etc. to prevent them from acting as kindling.
Removal of mulch from around homes and replacing with rock and leaving a minimum 6” (153 mm) clearance between the ground and the bottom of siding.
Regular cleaning of roofs, gutters and chimneys to prevent buildup of debris.
Roofs are now mandated to have a class A rating as per ASTM E 108 requiring either a 60lb. cap sheet or a minimum of 1” (24mm) mineral wool board underlayment.
Siding fire test standards have to comply with either (a) the ASTM E 84, 30 minute ignition resistant test standard or (b) the ASTM E 2707 siding test standard. The 30 minute extended test standard is used to rate fire treated lumber. The ASTM E -84 extended 30 minute test standard also requires weatherization testing to the ASTM D 2898 Method A or B test standard.
There are a few methods to comply with such requirements, involving removing existing siding and trim and then (i) applying a 3 coat stucco finish, (ii) install Flame Block paneling, reinstall windows, a new membrane and new siding and trim or (iii) installing gypsum boards. However, all these options are disruptive, labor intensive and costly, and still require painting.
The Firefree Wildfire System meets the ASTM WUI fire and weatherization standards for sidings. The System is fire ignition and weather resistant. It is also easy to use and cost effective and only requires painting instead of the disruptive, labor intensive and costly alternatives, which still would require painting See www.firefree.com/wildfires.
Eaves, soffits, projections and overhangs
All eaves, soffits, under floor projections and porch overhangs are required to meet either (a) the ASTM E 84 extended 30 minute fire test standard or (b) the ASTM E 2975 test standard.
There are a few methods to comply with such requirements, such as (i) enclosing eave rafters with a 3 coat stucco finish or (ii) construct a new soffit and finish underside with fire resistant assemblies and materials. However, all these options are disruptive, labor intensive and costly, and still require painting.
The Firefree Wildfire System can also be applied to, eaves, soffits and building projections and overhangs. It is easy to use and cost effective and only requires painting instead of the disruptive, labor intensive and costly alternatives, which still would require painting. See www.firefree.com/wildfires.
Use of fire-rated vents
Embers were responsible for a vast number of homes, hotels and commercial buildings burning to the ground in northern California. A good example is the Paradise Fire in Chico, CA which was an ember storm that destroyed over 1,000 homes.
Vents are required to meet the new ASTM E 2808 / E2886 ember and flame penetration test standard. The 1/8” (2mm) vents have been removed from code as they do not adequately prevent embers from entering a structure and do nothing to prevent flame penetration into a structure.
Vulcan Technologies has developed the Vulcan Vents, a line of exterior vents that meets both the ASTM E 2880/E2886 test standard preventing both ember and flame penetration, and has also passed a 1-hour ASTM E119 (AS1530.4) horizontal test, see www.vulcantechnologies.com. Many homes which had the Vulcan vents installed, those home survived the fire with minimal to no damage, while many others with regular vents including the homes with 1/8” (2mm) vents burned to the ground.
Fire safety equipment, including fire extinguishers, water, shovel and buckets.
Emergency plans. This should include escape routes from homes in addition to out of the area should the fire spread, as wells as keeping first aid kits and other essential fire safety equipment.