(Wild)fire Resistant Construction

I predict that construction in wildfire prone areas will be required to resist the level of risk required by the potential fire. The change will be driven by codes, zoning, insurance and other financial institutions, and by a changing perception in the public and in government about who bears the risk of building in a hazardous area. 

I thought a lot about this when I was involved in the autoclaved aerated concrete business. Because the masonry product has outstanding fire resistance, I proposed to promote it for construction at the urban/wildland interface and for vacation homes and other structures in forests and wildlands.  With fire shutters for windows, fire resistant eaves and roofing, and a few other modifications to standard building techniques, one could build a structure resistant to almost any wide fire.

I am reminded of this by a recently released research report that says we have a wildfire "problem that will make society increasingly vulnerable to catastrophic losses unless it changes its fundamental approach from fighting fire to coexisting with fire as a natural process."

A press release from the University of California says, in part (emphasis added)
The paper, “Learning to Coexist with Wildfire,” published in the Nov. 6 issue of the journal Nature, examines research findings from three continents and from both the natural and social sciences.

“We don’t try to ‘fight’ earthquakes — we anticipate them in the way we plan communities, build buildings and prepare for emergencies. We don’t think that way about fire, but our review indicates that we should,” said lead author Max Moritz, Cooperative Extension specialist in fire at UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources. “Human losses will only be mitigated when land-use planning takes fire hazards into account in the same manner as other natural hazards, like floods, hurricanes and earthquakes.”
If humans choose to live in fire-prone regions, fire must be managed on par with other naturally occurring hazards, the authors argue, and research must seek to understand what factors and outcomes humans can and cannot affect.
The authors recommend prioritizing location-specific approaches to improve development and safety in fire-prone areas, including:
  • Adopting new land-use regulations and zoning guidelines that restrict development in the most fire-prone areas;
  • Updating building codes, such as requiring fire-resistant construction to match local hazard levels and encouraging retrofits to existing ignition-prone homes;
  • Implementing locally appropriate vegetation management strategies around structures and neighborhoods;
  • Evaluating evacuation planning and warning systems, including understanding situations in which mandatory evacuations are or are not effective;
  • Developing household and community plans for how to survive stay-and-defend situations; and
  • Developing better maps of fire hazards, ecosystem services and climate change effects to assess trade-offs between development and hazard.
The authors underscore that wildfires are a natural part of many ecosystems and can have a positive long-term influence on the landscape, despite people labeling them as “disasters.” They can stimulate vegetation regeneration, promote a diversity of vegetation types, provide habitat for many species and sustain other ecosystem services, such as nutrient cycling.
If the report is heeded, there will be plenty of business opportunities for companies with fire resistant products for building envelopes.   Stay tuned.

Photo: http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/states/oregon/library/disasterrelief/wildfires