A Burning Issue

June 16, 2011

On May 3rd, the Woodside Fire Protection District presented a speaker on issues of fire protection and how best to protect your home from wildfire. The talk was given by Steve Quarles at the Woodside Elementary School gymnasium. Around twenty people attended, and you can watch the entire talk on MooTube here. The speaker has been a wood durability advisor with the UC Cooperative Extension since 2000, and has a bachelor’s in forestry from Virginia Tech and a master’s and doctorate in forest products from the University of Minnesota. He is currently the co-chair of the Extension Wildfire Information Network. He recently took a job with the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety as their senior scientist for hurricane and fire protection. Check out the informative information on fires on the Extension website.

The talk featured gripping video of homes and models burning, and proved unexpectedly lively when a fire official from Redwood City and our own COWncil member Dave Tanner pushed back on some issues.

The speaker began with the simple proposition that buildings in wildfire areas must be protected from embers, and said that homes must be “hardened” against fire with the use of proper materials, proper design, and vegetation management. Vegetation management includes being aware that mulch burns – pine burns well and fast, he said, and rubber mulch well and slow.

An extended discussion of the different “Class” roofs were discussed, with Class A roofs defined as roofs that wouldn’t burn into attics easily, with untreated wood shakes not even considered to be Class C roofs.

The speaker suggested that vents should be well-shielded. At this point COWncil member Tanner disagreed with him, saying that attics shouldn’t be traditionally vented at all, that it was too likely that embers would still get in. They got into a polite but spirited discussion on this point, with Steve Quarles pointing out that it can be hard to retrofit existing buildings to that standard.

It was suggested that all windows should be double-paned and strengthened. Photographs were shown of glass windows being blown in from the heat of the fire, and then different, double-paned windows with only the outer layer blown, preventing embers from landing inside the home. The speaker stated that tempered glass was also four times stronger than annealed glass.

The fire official from Redwood City spoke up and said that hardening homes was no replacement for a fire department – a truth that would seem self-evident – and that fire crews are still necessary to fight fires.

The talk proper wrapped up with photographs of decks burning, with suggestions on what sorts of decks are most resistant to burning, and with a four minute video showing fire propagation.

Denise Enea, the fire official who organized the talk, asked Steve Quarles if an old Class A roof still gives the same protection. He basically answered that it depends. The roof loses effectiveness in two ways – the chemical fire retardant can leach out, or the roof can erode with peaks and valleys on a shake, exposing a surface that is less fire resistant than it should be.

We applaud our Fire District for bringing us this program. The talk was very informative and lively. It is well worth checking out on MooTube.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *