Co fires. 500 homes gone... PB??

mikewof

mikewof
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A Google search will net you tons of references to the problem going back decades. This is one I picked off the search. The quote below is from a Masters Thesis submitted in 1993. 

https://www.wildfirelessons.net/HigherLogic/System/DownloadDocumentFile.ashx?DocumentFileKey=df90eab7-47d0-49e9-942f-cd0f2898b9bd&forceDialog=0

“The emergence of a fire problem involving smaller wildland fuel beds within incorporated cities and highly urbanized areas has demonstrated that high potential  for loss exists here. Further study of this problem and definition of firefighting and fire prevention practices are needed. In particular, the balance of natural resource preservation and fire prevention should be fully addressed by all concerned parties.”

The problems are neither new nor unrecognized. Trust me……although these issues of preventing and mitigating wind driven fires in urban areas might be new to you..…this fire is sadly not unique. 
 

But your problem ID is spot on.
Originally I heard it was a downed power line, but Xcel supposedly found no downed lines. They didn't mention anything about downed transformers, but no downed lines.

The idea here has always been that defensible neighborhoods don't burn down like that. But it seems when the winds are strong, fully defensible neighborhoods do burn down, 500 homes in about an hour and then another 500 homes after that. What's new with this? These high winds aren't new, we have had those in this corridor as long as I've lived here.

It seems that these designed firebreaks can become the sources of fires ... the firebreak a couple streets over is now choked with combustible stuff. Maybe firebreaks in urban areas should be built differently than they are in the forests? But that is hard to do here, we don't have enough water to have green ribbons of grass as firebreaks unless it is specifically designed as a park.

And what happens with those thousand-some homes? They were fairly new homes, rebuilt on top of existing foundations? The whole thing used to be kinda binary ... live in indefensible areas, risk losing your home, but you could protect it by clearing trees away from the house and using good construction. But now, homes in defensible areas are in more potential danger than the ones surrounded by kindling? WTAF?

 
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Mark K

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Brought to mind a guy I knew who built a house in Utah in a neighborhood at high risk of brush fire. He loved the view...and spent a bit extra to address the issue.

  https://www.deseret.com/2012/6/8/20503245/concrete-log-home-first-fire-resistant-home-in-northern-utah

Not designed so it would be wise or safe to stay there during a fire, or anything, but one can take a propane torch to every piece one sees in this pic, it won't burn. There will certainly be smoke damage in and out, but one would have every expectation of going back to it and finding it standing, roof and all. At the time he thought it would be the start of a trend, and had it publicized. Didn't happen though. A lot more construction has happened along that ridge and nobody else built this way. 

It really didn't cost him all that much more, and perhaps some building codes should demand exteriors built out of like-such materials in some places.  

 I would imagine insurance companies would be willing to cut rates a bit for this too. 

 

Point Break

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The idea here has always been that defensible neighborhoods don't burn down like that. But it seems when the winds are strong, fully defensible neighborhoods do burn down, 500 homes in about an hour and then another 500 homes after that. What's new with this? These high winds aren't new, we have had those in this corridor as long as I've lived here.

It seems that these designed firebreaks can become the sources of fires ... the firebreak a couple streets over is now choked with combustible stuff. Maybe firebreaks in urban areas should be built differently than they are in the forests? But that is hard to do here, we don't have enough water to have green ribbons of grass as firebreaks unless it is specifically designed as a park.
Well.............defensible does not mean invulnerable. Under really adverse conditions successfully "defending" is not possible. Defensible means given the proper construction and enough resources (firefighting personnel and equipment) early enough in the fire that the homes can be mostly successfully defended. Any notion other than that is fantasy.

So far as the fire breaks...once again what does the community through their elected officials? I can plan a nearly invulnerable neighborhood for you...........nobody wants that. What they want are lots of affordable houses. Lots of them. If it means smaller lots and setbacks..........fine. They want the aesthetics they want, and the elected officials are swayed by the builders lobby because smaller lots and setbacks means more homes which means more $$ per acre. And so it shall be until it becomes a priority of public policy expressed through the building codes. I'm not holding my breath.

Lastly.......I have worked so many fires where the fire front passes and we spend the next 12-24 hours trying to limit the house to house spread. That is also a function of the building codes and development requirements. Once again......we can fix that.........thats not what the regulatory process results in...........

 
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Brought to mind a guy I knew who built a house in Utah in a neighborhood at high risk of brush fire. He loved the view...and spent a bit extra to address the issue.

  https://www.deseret.com/2012/6/8/20503245/concrete-log-home-first-fire-resistant-home-in-northern-utah

Not designed so it would be wise or safe to stay there during a fire, or anything, but one can take a propane torch to every piece one sees in this pic, it won't burn. There will certainly be smoke damage in and out, but one would have every expectation of going back to it and finding it standing, roof and all. At the time he thought it would be the start of a trend, and had it publicized. Didn't happen though. A lot more construction has happened along that ridge and nobody else built this way. 

It really didn't cost him all that much more, and perhaps some building codes should demand exteriors built out of like-such materials in some places.  

 I would imagine insurance companies would be willing to cut rates a bit for this too. 
Too much large  glass and the eves and deck can be an issue. In wild fires many homes burn from the inside out

 
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White Lightning2

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I have been in those conditions many times. I have seen a fire lay down horizontally over 8 lanes of California freeway. Impressive. There is very little you can do till the wind moderates. Fires often lay at night and the night shift can sometimes make some progress depending on the terrain, but when the sun comes up and the wind resurfaces……very little you can accomplish in perimeter control. Try to stay in front and pick your winners……one house at a time. Sometimes all you can do is try to protect evacuation routes for a while. 
Shitting myself might be an option! Holy crap. 

I'm really appreciating my soggy little corner of the world right now! And you're right about overbuilt and under-protected. Until the money isn't the driving factor, they will continue to build 'em to burn. 

I think most in our society and perhaps in most places in the world, live with the "it can't happen to me". So, when that "Craps gone sideways" moment comes knockin' at the door. It's met with a blank stare and panic by most.

WL

 

mikewof

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Well.............defensible does not mean invulnerable. Under really adverse conditions successfully "defending" is not possible. Defensible means given the proper construction and enough resources (firefighting personnel and equipment) early enough in the fire that the homes can be mostly successfully defended. Any notion other than that is fantasy.

So far as the fire breaks...once again what does the community through their elected officials? I can plan a nearly invulnerable neighborhood for you...........nobody wants that. What they want are lots of affordable houses. Lots of them. If it means smaller lots and setbacks..........fine. They want the aesthetics they want, and the elected officials are swayed by the builders lobby because smaller lots and setbacks means more homes which means more $$ per acre. And so it shall be until it becomes a priority of public policy expressed through the building codes. I'm not holding my breath.

Lastly.......I have worked so many fires where the fire front passes and we spend the next 12-24 hours trying to limit the house to house spread. That is also a function of the building codes and development requirements. Once again......we can fix that.........thats not what the regulatory process results in...........
Of course, nothing is impervious. But one of the selling points of a neighborhood with solid roads, water and hydrants is that while a house or two may be lost, the entire neighborhood won't be reduced to a cinder. That was obviously not the case when winds hit 100 mph and the distance between the homes was too tight to slide a cigarette paper.

And yes, you nailed it regarding the safety of these neighborhoods. County governments in this area are now widely controlled and influenced by the real estate industry and the desire to widen tax base at any cost. I agree that the building codes won't change without a somewhat uniform public desire to prevent this from happening again. But it seems likely to happen again, sooner or later. These high wind speeds and fires are nothing new around here, we just apparently got lucky until now. Another neighborhood or five reduced to ashes and maybe us average uninformed homeowners and newspaper writers will stop blaming the fires on ethereal nonsense and start listening to the firefighters and professionals who understand these things and then change back the building codes.

 
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mikewof

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Brought to mind a guy I knew who built a house in Utah in a neighborhood at high risk of brush fire. He loved the view...and spent a bit extra to address the issue.

  https://www.deseret.com/2012/6/8/20503245/concrete-log-home-first-fire-resistant-home-in-northern-utah

Not designed so it would be wise or safe to stay there during a fire, or anything, but one can take a propane torch to every piece one sees in this pic, it won't burn. There will certainly be smoke damage in and out, but one would have every expectation of going back to it and finding it standing, roof and all. At the time he thought it would be the start of a trend, and had it publicized. Didn't happen though. A lot more construction has happened along that ridge and nobody else built this way. 

It really didn't cost him all that much more, and perhaps some building codes should demand exteriors built out of like-such materials in some places.  

 I would imagine insurance companies would be willing to cut rates a bit for this too. 
That's a neat home. Have you been inside?

Something they do in Canada is install the rooftop watering systems with 500 gallon tanks.

 

Mark K

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That's a neat home. Have you been inside?

Something they do in Canada is install the rooftop watering systems with 500 gallon tanks.
No, but I've seen the plans. Only interior bearing walls are the ones on the lower floor that support the second floor. Can be any layout on the second, even wide open. 

 Those windows were a bit spendy, custom made with steel instead of alum or vinyl with inflammable and non-melting thermal breaks. In describing it as fire-proof, they were talking scrub-brush fires, not timber it should be mentioned, and so it's the siding, not the concrete log-cabin construction, and it was judged good-to-go with a lot of glass.  I recall he asked if it would be a good idea to have a lot of ground irrigation to soak down the adjacent bush, but was told "it wouldn't make any difference" in a windy brush fire.  

 

mikewof

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Those windows were a bit spendy, custom made with steel instead of alum or vinyl with inflammable and non-melting thermal breaks.
Seems a difficult task ... how does someone make a double-paned low-e window that won't blow out in a fire? Maybe go with VIG instead?

 
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Point Break

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You mean a house like this..........the Bui house was successfully defended from the Laguna Fire because it was............defendable. 

Here is some of what made it defendable:

https://www.finehomebuilding.com/1995/06/01/fire-resistant-details

design-1993-08-04-fire-surviving-house-laguna-beach.jpg

 
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Mark K

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Seems a difficult task ... how does someone make a double-paned low-e window that won't blow out in a fire? Maybe go with VIG instead?
You mean clear ceramic fire glass? I asked him that at the time but he said no. Real, real spendy stuff, that.  No, they went with standard, but tempered, double-glazed insulated glass packs, the only difference was the frames. Again, I suspect if they were going for the sort of construction that can stand up to a timber fire I imagine they would have to go ceramic though.

Imagining there, I be guessin'.  

 

Point Break

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You mean clear ceramic fire glass? I asked him that at the time but he said no. Real, real spendy stuff, that.  No, they went with standard, but tempered, double-glazed insulated glass packs, the only difference was the frames. Again, I suspect if they were going for the sort of construction that can stand up to a timber fire I imagine they would have to go ceramic though.

Imagining there, I be guessin'.  
There is a Calcium/Silica window that has shown real heat resistance. My experience is dual paned with an air gap gets it done even with direct flame impingement. Of course the name of that game is how long and how direct. But the dual pane hold up really well to radiant heat transmission. I have gone inside more than one house with only minutes to spare and ripped down all the curtains and window coverings on the fire side of the structure and most of those did really well.

 
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Mark K

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There is a Calcium/Silica window that has shown real heat resistance. My experience is dual paned with an air gap gets it done even with direct flame impingement. Of course the name of that game is how long and how direct. But the dual pane hold up really well to radiant heat transmission. I have gone inside more than one hose with only minutes to spare and ripped down all the curtains and window coverings an o=the fire side of the structure and most of those did really well.
That's probably it. The advancement of fire-rated glass allows 20 minute rated walls that are nearly all glass, but I never dig too deeply into the exact kind of glass they use in each specific system to achieve that label...and sometime a higher label...for the truly well-to do wealthy customer. We just generically call it "ceramic" when the price quadruples...they get away with tempered a lot of the time though.  

 https://www.vetrotech.com/en-us/vetrotech-design-solutions-vds-north-america

That's a link for those who want to sort through all the technical data of one mfg.  

 
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Mark K

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You mean a house like this..........the Bui house was successfully defended from the Laguna Fire because it was............defendable. 

Here is some of what made it defendable:

https://www.finehomebuilding.com/1995/06/01/fire-resistant-details

View attachment 483181
I note that there isn't much glass in the side where they were next to a neighboring, burning building. Smart. The house in Utah had the same thing on the side close to the neighbors house too. The side with the car-port had a bit, but that car-port meant that house was at arm's length, so to speak. 

 

Point Break

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I note that there isn't much glass in the side where they were next to a neighboring, burning building. Smart. The house in Utah had the same thing on the side close to the neighbors house too. The side with the car-port had a bit, but that car-port meant that house was at arm's length, so to speak. 
The houses on both sides were already burning so we put hose lines down each side. You’re right, very few windows on each side…..not sure if that was intentional to protect from neighboring houses or not. I didn’t get a chance to chat with him. The hillside below had really good vegetation management well down the slope. It still took about 3 hours till the houses on both sides finally went to the ground and didn’t put off enough BTU’s to be a threat. 

 
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mikewof

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You mean clear ceramic fire glass? I asked him that at the time but he said no. Real, real spendy stuff, that.  No, they went with standard, but tempered, double-glazed insulated glass packs, the only difference was the frames. Again, I suspect if they were going for the sort of construction that can stand up to a timber fire I imagine they would have to go ceramic though.

Imagining there, I be guessin'.  
Not the ceramic glass; VIG, vacuum insulated glass. Seems that a vacuum is more impervious to fire than the 1 atmosphere argon fill between the glass panes.

But it's the right idea, at minimum some of the ideas in that house should become standard building codes for houses in difficult-to-defend areas. We have a neighborhood near us called Lookout Mountain, I have no idea how it has managed to stay unburned ... dried up redwood decks, shake roofs, cedar siding, trees leaning against houses, unpaved, narrow roads, very little water. These forests keep getting older and older, more damaged from beetle kill, more dried out, eventually they will need to burn, and then firefighters are expected to sacrifice their lives to the general laziness and lack of thought of all these homeowners.

It's a societal problem, but at long as real estate tycoons control country governments, nothing will really change.

 

mikewof

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I note that there isn't much glass in the side where they were next to a neighboring, burning building. Smart. The house in Utah had the same thing on the side close to the neighbors house too. The side with the car-port had a bit, but that car-port meant that house was at arm's length, so to speak. 
The general lack of glass near the property lines is a product of the builders spending their window budgets on the front and rear of the houses. Back in my Building Technologies days, this was the focus of a lot of stakeholder meetings. Since the buildings are so close to the lot lines there isn't much to see anyway, and the builders can keep the R-value of walls with small and absent windows much higher, which helps them adhere to energy efficiency codes.

If you had a look at those neighborhoods that burned down, all those houses were are at "arms length." My neighborhood is just as bad, I can stand on the property line and touch the siding of my house. But the post-WWII houses in Denver, that were coded when people still remembered what fire could do, the set-backs are much wider. I could install a two-car driveway on both sides of my late-mother's house in Denver.

 

mikewof

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Believe it or not, that photo would really stress out some folks in Colorado. I was told by a retired Philly bank executive who bought a lovely home in the wooded areas outside of Steamboat that she wouldn't want her house to survive a fire if the houses around it burned down. She was concerned that the house would then have no value in a burned out wasteland, with no neighbors, no services. The post-apocalyptic thing didn't do it for her.

Given that, it's incredible to me how houses that large and luxurious could be packed that close to each other. FFS, it's even worse than what we have here.

That article was interesting, their houses seemed to survive because of the small details he built; slightly thicker stucco, better windows, lack of soffits. Maybe we don't need a huge overhaul of the building codes, but rather incremental improvements? Then again, the houses that are defended will be the ones that are more defensible than their neighbors. So if everyone is at the same code, then it is the house that is a little better than code that gets the effort, right?

 
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Point Break

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Believe it or not, that photo would really stress out some folks in Colorado. I was told by a retired Philly bank executive who bought a lovely home in the wooded areas outside of Steamboat that she wouldn't want her house to survive a fire if the houses around it burned down. She was concerned that the house would then have no value in a burned out wasteland, with no neighbors, no services. The post-apocalyptic thing didn't do it for her.

Given that, it's incredible to me how houses that large and luxurious could be packed that close to each other. FFS, it's even worse than what we have here.

That article was interesting, their houses seemed to survive because of the small details he built; slightly thicker stucco, better windows, lack of soffits. Maybe we don't need a huge overhaul of the building codes, but rather incremental improvements? Then again, the houses that are defended will be the ones that are more defensible than their neighbors. So if everyone is at the same code, then it is the house that is a little better than code that gets the effort, right?
Yep, your observations on the things that matter are spot on….not big expensive items…..…..and as a corollary to the house surviving…..they really struggled with being the only house that survived……allegedly some of the burnt out neighbors were inking, and they rebuilt with EXACTLY all the same construction as the ones that burnt down. At the end of the day, they sold the house and built somewhere else. I think in the same community. 

 




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