Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Modern Day Megafires: Understanding Some Basic Fundamentals for Survival

Today I viewed an interesting take on surviving these modern day un-naturally occurring and all to common megafires which have become our  unfortunate norm for many areas around the globe. A short piece on the Facebook page below  
National Fire Fighter Corp. - Firefighting Equipment
 This website or rather Facebook page showed the audience some photographs followed by these words of wisdom under these two before & after photo shots. Here's what they said:
National Fire Fighter Corp:
"Defensible space works!"
"Check out this home near Cle Elum, Washington during and after the Bridge Taylor Fire passes by. If you live in a wildfire-prone area, take the time to protect your property!"

(AP Photo/ Elaine Thompson)
This photo combination shows a house on a hillside above Bettas Road near Cle Elum Washington, surrounded by flames on August 14, 2012. A Spokesman for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources said the house survived the fire because of the defensible space around the structure with the placement of the driveway and the lack of trees and brush up against the house, preventing flames from reaching it. Fire Fighters are still working to control the Taylor Bridge Fire and said that it's 25% contained"
Basically credit was given for the defensible landscaping & cleared perimeter space. I agree, landscaping should be considered when mapping out a landscape design for an area YOU have made a conscious decision to live in knowing full well most back country rural areas are more prone to fire hazards in our modern times than in previous past decades. Yet there are a number of things to consider in laying out a landscape. First off don't fall into the error prone ideology of all native chaparral is evil and the likely cause of all megafire destruction. I love native plants and recommend them in the backcountry over traditional non-natives who tax the ecosystem's resources like water. Natives are better adapted to these landscapes.
 "But they have Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which exploded under the right fire conditions , right ??????????????"
Yes and but so do ALL plants. They all have a measure of VOCs. All landscape material will burn. It's organic and that's what happens to things organic. There is no fire resistant plants. Some have less VOCs than others, but will still explode in fire given the right conditions, especially with these later day MegaFires phenomena which it appears are uncontrollable. What I did with my house was an obvious strategy for removing vegetation away from immediate vicinity of the house. That's logical and yet you can take a tour of almost any back country and people actually have dense vegetation touching their homes, even if it's ornamental plants purchased from their favourite city Nursery. And yes the House in that photo did appear to have defensible perimeters around it as a defensive line. Yet there were some things in that photo and the accompanying story that were misleading and reflected in many of the comments that followed,  like how safe Metal Roofs are because they won't burn. Lets take another important look of the top photo now popularly presented as an example property lifesaver.
Which way is the wind blowing ???
Can anyone reading see which direction the wind is coming from ? When looking at the photo, can you tell at the direction of the flames and smoke that the wind is coming from right to left. And yet, though the flames are blowing in the opposite direction away from the house up that hill, the fire never the less is SLOWLY making it's way down the hill towards the direction of the home. However, if the winds had been blowing from left to right in the photo, you wouldn't have been able to see the house in the photograph.  Or if the fire had come from right side to the left, we would have a far different scenario. In fact smoke & intense heat would have been so dense that no firefighter  could have been able to breath let alone defend the house. Let's take a look at a photo not shown in all the popular journals but one which were used to champion the smart landscaping as the savior. Yes the landscape can be clean, but it's no guarantee.

Image from USA Today
At this point notice the winds had died way down even further from that top photo where the burn has progressed further. Yet the bottom photo at the top show of this post showing the comparison of complete burn all the way around the property gives the impression that it was the ideologically correct landscaping plan that saved the day which in reality wasn't exactly the case. Yes the landscaping was clean, but given other wind direction circumstances, there is no guarantee here. Clearly at this point in the photo above, they were able to allow the fire to burn off the surrounding landscape and control this burn with ease. Even the giant scrub at the top of the bank in front of the house was in no real danger at this point. Once again let's look at a shot of the complete burn after the fire is totally out. Notice how much easier it was to defend after those winds had died down. And even when there were winds, the fire though progressively and slowly moving down hill was still being blown into itself by the opposing winds from right to left in the photo at the top.

Landscaping really had nothing to do with saving this home.
If the winds & fire direction had been coming fiercely from the right to left going up the hill instead of down, the house would have never survived and no amount of philosophically Correct Landscape vegetation or defensible space would have prevented any disaster from happening. Yet native Chaparral will continue to get the blame for wildfire property destruction. Let's revisit a photo from the California Chaparral Institute which clearly shows the odd behavior of fire is not necessarily dictated by chaparral's presence to a house.

(Image & quote: Richard Halsey)
 "A home ignited by blowing embers during the 2007 Witch Creek Fire. Note the burned sticks in the foreground where the wildland fire stopped, the green iceplant, then the dense, unburned patch of chamise chaparral right next to the house." Richard Halsey
One of the facts of those 2003 & 2007 MegaFires and the majority of homes that burned was that they were stucco or concrete block & concrete or clay tiled roofs. Remember those popular Ranch Style 1950s homes with the Cedar Shake roofs that went up like a matchstick during the 1970 Laguna Fire in San Diego County ?  That led to a movement of banning or limiting such material in future houses and rightly so. Now stucco, concrete and clay doesn't burn, so what happened here ? The intensity of the heat coming within range of a building can simply create combustion from within. Not to mention blowing embers igniting leaves and other dry dead debri in rain-gutters etc. As the photo above shows, the landscape was untouched while home in the center exploded and went up in flames. This sure is the exact opposite of that recent story of that Taylor Bridge Fire home escaping disaster as a result of the ideologically correct landscaping saving the day. Notice this photo below and the propaganda captioned underneath it.
"This home and outbuildings survived the 2010 Cowiche Mill Fire near Yakima, thanks to several fire prevention steps taken by the owners."
Fire, Defensible Space and You

This photo to the left like the one above along with the Public Relations promo  has often been used as the poster child as a sort of guarantee to an uneducated public that all will be well if you follow these procedures. Seriously google it and you will see it not only is used by many institutions like cities, counties, states etc, but in fact right NOW it is being replaced by the newer poster child Photo at the top of my page here which inspired me writing this post about it being as savior of the day. In fact there is a good read on the above photo here on the Chaparral Institute's webpages explaining the actual science of what they found actually saves such homes and burns others with similar so-called defensible perimeters.

California Chaparral Institute: "Protecting your Home"

With all that has been said here, does this mean I'm against defensible landscaping ? No of course not! That would be crazy. But I'm all for logical defensible and neatly arranged landscaping. After all I was in that field for many years. Yet the propaganda behind many of these stories doesn't tell the reader the entire truth of the matter as the new poster child reveals here. It leaves a rural homeowner lazy, relaxed and allows them to make utterly stupid decisions like getting the family out and the male Patriarch staying behind proving his testosterone at saving the family dwelling. Even fire agencies and other officials don't recommend this even if you are considered to have the politically correct landscape. My home in Anza California was in the midst of fire disaster scenario and I would never considered to stay behind and defend. A human life is more important than saving material things. Yes there are examples of so-called heros we hear about in the News Media, but what if it went the other way and it has ? Not only does a family loose all possessions, but a loved one who was also the family provider. Take one more look at my old place and the landscape decisions I made that may not have been considered safe. Two photos of what I wanted , preferred and accepted their potential loss. But then I knew this when I moved there.

Photo: Mine
Large Coulter, Jeffrey & Aleppo Pines next to the house's wooden porch covered decking.

Photo: Mine
Same deal with the back of the house. I would have left for safer pastures in the event of a fire and given permission for no firefighter to risk his life to save anything that resulted in my personal choices at landscaping. Seriously at this spot on the hill of Table Mountain, the area has a reputation for some of the most extreme high hurricane winds of anywhere in Southern California. Even without those trees and shrubs it would have been a total loss. For the most part that is all I have to say, but there are some interesting details about that cause of the Taylor Bridge Fire which had ZERO to do with Nature like most modern day fires. Take a look at the cause being investigated.
Posted: 4:33 p.m. Monday, Aug. 20, 2012 Exact cause of Taylor Bridge Fire still unknown
Exact Cause Unknown ??? Yeeeah! Suuure!
Speaking of human fire causes and the recent ongoing controversy over Windfarm's actually causing several fires ? Get a load of these photos of the Taylor Bridge Fire and the Wind Energy machines all over the charred landscape. Of course they weren't at fault, but "Just Saying . . . "
Now look real close at the ridgelines and hills at those not so sustainable Wind Energy Eco-Solutions

Here's a further close up view of the charred landscape
Be safe

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