High Fire Danger Plans:

March 18, 2014

Recently, the Woodside COWncil met in a special joint session with Portola Valley to talk with representatives from the Woodside Fire Protection District; hold a study session on regulating wood shake roofs and discuss fire prevention initiatives. The revitalization of the vital CERPP (Citizens Emergency and Response Preparedness Program) in our Towns was also discussed. All Woodside COWncil members except Tom Shanahan were present at the meeting. You can check out the video on Mootube here.

The meeting started off with some opening remarks from Fire Marshal Denise Enea, stating that the WFPD is very concerned with fire conditions in the District, citing the continuing drought. She said that the fire season is now effectively twelve months long, instead of the traditional April through October season. She said that her job is to be proactive and the region needs to do more. She wonders and worries what will happen during peak fire season, and said that it is a reality that fire departments do triage during a fire. That means that if a house doesn’t have defensible space around it, or has a wood shake roof, in some cases, a fire truck will just keep driving on to the next house that can be saved. Denise said that neighboring communities in Marin are “shocked” that Woodside still allows wood shake roofs, and listed other communities around the State that don’t allow wood shake roofs anymore. The Fire Marshal also noted that certain insurance agencies take Town regulations into account when setting insurance rates for customers.

This lead into to a discussion of the idea of banning wood shake roofs entirely in Woodside and Portola Valley and, while some of the elected officials seemed interested in the idea at first, there was strong pushback from members of industry and the public on the issue. The consensus of audience members (including roofers and former fire officials) was that a modern pressure treated wood shake roof impregnated with a chemical known as Thermex and with the proper underlayment, (which is the only kind of wood shake roof that can be approved in Woodside right now anyway, since it is the only way a wood shake roof can get the required “Class A” rating), is just as safe as any other Class A roof. It was also stated that these modern wood shake roofs are much better than older chemically-treated roofs, and have been subjected to weathering tests that show that the protection will last for the life of the roof. While any roof can be installed improperly, including these modern wood shake roofs, proper installation and inspection will ensure that the roofs are built in a way that will resist fire as well as even a metal or stone roof.

There was some concern that these roofs will have a toxic runoff, but a representative from the company that makes Thermex roofs stated that the runoff isn’t toxic. After hearing the testimony from industry professionals, the Town will not ban the modern wood shake roofs at this time.

However, they were concerned by the dangers of older wood shake roofs, especially ones in bad shape where embers can easily start a fire. They discussed the possibility of having some sort of funding program to help homeowners that have one of these older, more dangerous roofs and who are not able to afford to repair or replace these roofs at this time. Unlike the banning of the modern wood shake roofs, the consensus was that replacement of these older roofs in poor repair could make a difference now.

The meeting then moved into a discussion of what other measures the Fire District and the Towns are taking to reduce fire danger in our region. The number of fires so far this year is six times the average, raising the frightening possibility of many many fires in our Town this year. The Fire District plans on increasing the chipper program, and members from both Town councils promised financial support for that program, as well as urging more education to their residents. The likelihood that Cal Fire chipping services will not be available during the height of fire season this year was outlined by Denise, underscoring the need for more local efforts on this issue.

The revitalization of CERPP (with the Fire District proposing a half-time paid liaison to the local CERPP districts) and the possibility of local parks being closed if fire danger gets too high were also raised. We sure hope that our CERPP is revitalized and that park closure do not happen! However, it is going to take a lot more rain than the recent showers to significantly reduce fire danger in our Towns, and we all have to be fire wise at all times.

Stay smart and safe!

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