While a harsh fire season has become an expectation for many California residents, especially in Northern California, it is still extremely challenging to prepare for a raging wildfire. Though the state has taken great strides in improving building codes and requiring more fire safety protocols, there are still many homes built decades before any of these new codes were put in place.
Currently, several California agencies are in the process of developing new unified standards for home hardening in wildfire-prone communities.
Home hardening is the practice of making a home or structure, as well as surrounding property, more fire resistant in the case of a wildfire. General practices can include utilizing ignition-resistant building materials (such as siding or roofing materials), special preventative screens, exterior and interior fire suppression systems, landscape management, and much more.
Unfortunately, many homeowners in California’s wildfire country are facing an insurance crisis — either being unable to get coverage or having their coverage renewal denied. Without proper home hardening, securing coverage in wildfire-endangered communities has become increasingly difficult. That’s why the Department of Insurance is partnering with Cal Fire, the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, and the Public Utilities Commission to establish new hardening standards for these fire-prone communities. Insurance lobbyists said they could reconsider selling coverage to these areas once standard hardening requirements for these communities were developed.
More than just the hope of returned insurance coverage, new community hardening standards could provide Californians great peace of mind and safety in higher fire risk communities. These standards could be crucial in saving lives as well as property.
Will Standardized Codes Really Help Prevent Damage?
California has taken a strong approach towards creating some of the toughest building codes when it comes to fire safety. They are considered some of the most effective in the entire country, addressing everything from fire-resilient roofing materials to wire-mesh screens that can prevent embers drifting into flammable attic vents, among other preventative steps.
The McClatchy investigation of the damage caused by the Camp Fire in Paradise proved more than just the effectiveness of these fire-resilient building codes — it proved California’s urgent need to continue improving and standardizing these codes for wildfire-prone communities. According to the study, of the thousands of homes damaged by the Camp Fire, less than 50% of the homes built since 2008 (when the fire codes were put in place) were damaged. Comparatively, more than 80% of the older homes built prior to these codes sustained fire damage.
These statistics alone speak to the great need for continual home hardening practices for homes in wildfire country, especially homes throughout Northern California.
How Can You Stay Ahead of the Next Wildfire?
Though Wildfire Urban-Interface (WUI) codes must be adhered to for any new construction or renovated properties in designated wildfire danger zones, even current homeowners can benefit from reviewing these codes.
While the current partnership between insurance industry professionals and state agencies will hopefully produce effective and strong standards for threatened communities, there is no telling how long it will take to create and enact these standards. Some property owners may find themselves wondering what they should do in the meantime to prepare for the next fire season.
For homeowners in these areas, personal home hardening is one of the most proactive steps they have control over when it comes to protecting their home against potential wildfire damage. Even if it isn’t required by community standards yet, fire resistant practices can ensure a home has the proper fire defenses in place.
Firebrand Safety Systems, Inc. is proud to offer fire safety assessments and mitigation strategies to homeowners throughout Sonoma County, Marin County, and Napa County. We work with clients to design home hardening and evacuation plans tailored to their landscape, home design and age, and geographic location. Our total fire safety systems company is ready to help you prepare for the next wildfire threat.