The onus for fire protection is largely with the resident or property owner. Fire officials have emphasized that view for years. They say if someone’s house or property is a significant fire hazard, it is not fair to expect firefighters to risk their lives to save or protect the property.
So the state Public Resources Code requires 100 feet of defensible space beyond the structure. Idyllwild Fire Protection District has a similar ordinance.
But vegetative abatement and removal are just part of protecting one’s home and life. Fire officials also are strong advocates of “hardening” your home from fire. Winds can carry embers thousands of feet ahead of the fire. Roofs, especially if covered in pine needles, are great risks; but homes have other vulnerabilities.
Hardening the house means making changes that reduce the chance of fire igniting the structure. For example, many property owners have participated in the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council’s program to replace wooden cedar-shake shingles with “Class A” fire-resistant shingles.
More than 60 property owners have had or are having the roofs on their homes replaced, according to Edwina Scott, MCFSC executive director. Roof replacement is not free. While federal grant money helps with the cost, owners still pay a portion. More than 100 have qualified and made the commitment before the Mountain Fire skirted town last summer.
“I’m very happy. My original roof was really dried out,” said Julie Wettlaufer. “It would have caught on fire instantly.” Former Idyllwild Fire Chief Don Gilden also had his roof replaced and encouraged other homeowners to do it. “There are a lot of shake roofs here. It is for the property owners and for the sake of the community, too,” he said.
Eliminating wood roofs is a major fire protective step. But this is not the only action a homeowner can take. Dan Ross also installed double-paned windows. These help keep the fire’s heat intensity outside and lower the risk of heat breaking windows.
Hardening of existing homes is very important on the Hill because new construction is slow. But Ron Kelly built a new home in 2010. Before construction he researched what would be needed to raise his fire-protection level.
The outside of the house is cement fiberboard. Vents offer embers an entrance to the attic so the eaves on his house have metal-mesh vent protectors. Typically, recommendations are for 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch metal mesh coverings because fiberglass or plastic mesh can melt or burn.
Kelly also used double-pane windows and his deck is built from synthetic material. Decks are vulnerable to burning embers if they’re made from combustible materials or if there’s a buildup of leaves, dried grass and debris in the space under the deck.
For more information and recommendations on hardening a home, visit www.readyforwildfire.org/hardening_your_home.