Preventing Wildfire Home Ignition:
Why the Answer is Often ‘Over Your Head’
The devastating fire season of 2003 in California left many communities wondering how so many lives and homes were lost. Jack Cohen’s research has shown that structures surviving a wildfire event are not spared by random chance or miracle, but rather because conditions were not met for ignition and sustained burning.
The home ignition zone refers to the 100-200 ft surrounding the home where treatment of vegetation and structural materials can greatly reduce a home’s ignition potential. A study performed at the University of California at Berkeley’s Forest Products Laboratory (UCFPL) examined the fire resistance of the following Class A roof coverings: asphalt composition, fire-retardant treated wood shakes, fiber cement, concrete tile, aluminum, and fiber-glass reinforced resin. Several studies of home losses in wildland fires have determined that the presence of non-flammable roofing combined with treated vegetation in the home ignition zone increases the chances of home survival by 70 – 99%. Treatment of natural ignition sources in the home ignition zone combined with attention to construction materials will dramatically improve a home’s chances of survival during a wildfire event.