It only takes a spark to get a fire going . . .

Nov 18, 2008

The headline above, also the opening lyrics of a popular 1970s folk song, is a message that is again being driven home in the wake of this week's Southern California fires. A Los Angeles Times article published today focused on the dangers of flying embers to homes even some distance away from the fire frontline.

The story opened with a heart-wrenching account of Yorba Linda homeowners who thought they had done everything right: barrel tile roof, boxed eaves, brick and stucco siding, well-maintained landscape and clean rain gutters. Their home was destroyed.

"There will be a weak link in the house that is destroyed," the story quoted Stephen Quarles, UC Cooperative Extension wood durability advisor.

As he has explained at countless meetings up and down the state, Quarles told reporter Tom Barboza that it is usually not raging flames that ignite a home, but an ember slipping through a small breach: a vent, a doggie door, a gap under the garage door, an open window, a cracked roof tile.

Quarles has identified six priority areas for making changes to existing homes in fire hazard zones. He suggests homeowners start with the roof, the most vulnerable part of the house in a fire, and then continue in order with vents, vegetation, windows, decking and siding. For more details, see the story published on the UC ANR Web site after the fall 2007 wildfires.

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In more fire news, co-director of the UC Berkeley Fire Center Max Moritz spoke to Ventura County Star reporter Teresa Rochester about the notorious fire mischief-maker -- wind.

In looking at California's most destructive fires - Tea, Oakland Hills, Simi, Cedar, Painted Cave, Old and Witch fires - all were fanned by strong wind, the story said.

"The common thread is fire weather patterns," the story quoted Moritz.

In the same article, UC Riverside fire ecologist Richard Minnich said the massive wind-driven fires of the last few decades are the result of fire suppression management.

"When it comes to a landslide, do we try to stop the landslide halfway down?" Minnich was quoted. "Do we build a wall to stop a hurricane? In a fire we try to fight the process instead of managing the source of it."

By Jeannette E. Warnert
Author - Communications Specialist