I recently looked on in horror as the Strong Fire erupted a short distance from my Fern Valley home. I’m extremely grateful to live in a first-world country where we pay taxes to support firefighting organizations that make a valiant effort to protect structures. I am very thankful that, so far, our home and Idyllwild have been spared. That said, I can’t help but feel it’s only a matter of time before we, too, experience disaster. I know that my home, like many area homes, has no real chance of avoiding a fire’s destruction because it is not fire resistant, much less fire proof.
Year after year, the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies fall back to the same methods of prescribed burns and “fuel reduction” as the preferred way of dealing with wildfires. Each year, millions are spent (currently 201M proposed in the USFS fiscal 2014 budget) clearing habitat and ecosystems; each year more homes burn while little is done to improve homes’ fire resistance in high-risk areas like Idyllwild and Pine Cove.
While I don’t disagree that there is value in abatement and creating “survivable space” around homes and businesses, studies have shown and the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego demonstrated, that during wind-driven fires, firebreaks are useless for stopping wildfire spread. We can also look to the recent Silver Fire as another example of the questionable value of “fuel reduction”. Based on currently accepted thought, the Silver Fire should have posed little threat to the Esperanza burn area as the fuel was “reduced” by fire only a few years earlier and yet, we observed that not to be the case.
In short, wind is a major factor in many of California’s wildfires and most homes do not burn from a wall of flame, but rather from embers that can travel up to 3 miles ahead of the flame front. No amount of fuel reduction will stop a home from igniting from wind-driven embers. We saw this evidence in the Silver Fire as we watched on national TV as homes with vast clearances around them went up in flames. To improve the odds of our homes and businesses surviving a fire, a structure has to be fire resistant. We need to consider other paths forward to protect our homes and community, among them, dual-pane, tempered windows; class-A roof’, fireproof decks; enclosed eaves; and cement-board-type siding.