Steven A. Gunther
When temperatures reach upwards of 2,000°, as they did at the climax of the Oakland/Berkeley Hills fire (Tunnel fire) of a 1991, everything burns and there's nothing you can do to stop the oncoming conflagration. But if you take steps to make your house resistant to lesser fires, it may survive.
Typically, homes burn because the roof catches fire ― each broad expanse is an open invitation to windblown embers, whether from nearby homes or from burning vegetation in adjacent landscaping or wildland. So the best precaution you can take in a fire-prone area is to make your roof fire-resistant.
Roof materials are rated from A to C for resistance to fire, with A being the most resistant. Install a class A roof if you can. "The cost difference is so little that a B- or C-class roof doesn't make sense. Class A roofs make for safe communities," says Gerson Bers of Gale Associates in Mountain View, California, a roofing consulting firm.
After seeing to your roof, you can take many other steps to protect your home. These measures are based on the following principles.
- Use fire-resistant materials wherever possible.
- Deny fire all entry points. For instance, cover eave overhangs and close off deck underpinnings.
- Don't let tinder – dead leaves, debris – accumulate on your roof, in gutters and vents, or under decks.
- Windows and skylights are particular points of vulnerability, as their materials will break or burn at relatively low heat. Consider reducing the size and number of windows facing wooded areas; consider eliminating skylights. At a minimum, use thermal-pane glass. Operable metal shutters and fire-resistant curtains can help.
- Avoid providing fire with extra fuel and pathways to your house via wooden trellises, fences, or sheds.