Fire prevention project upgraded

Fire prevention project upgraded

21 January 2009

published by

USA — So you’ve checked out the square-footage of your new house, the quality of nearby schools and the average rainfall.

What about the chances of wildfire destroying your dream home?

Thanks to a grant from an East Coast insurance company, residents on the Olympic Peninsula may be able to see if their home is in a wildfire danger zone, while prospective residents can see if the homes they’re considering could be threatened by wildfire.

With FM Global’s grant in December, Peninsula College professor Dwight Barry and students are getting a boost toward their efforts to understand wildfire dangers on the Olympic Peninsula.

Rhode Island-based FM Global, a property insurer for some of the world’s largest businesses, granted more than $2,200 to Barry’s wildland fire project mapping the peninsula’s wildfire threat (“Bound to Burn?” Sequim Gazette, Aug. 20, page A-1).

The wildfire study, created by Barry, student Chris De

Sisto and other students from Peninsula College’s Center of Excellence, highlights the regions that are most susceptible to a wildfire catastrophe.

The study takes into  ac-count the unpredictable winds, steep slopes, dry summer weather, buildup of dry vegetation and limited access roads that contribute to an unusually high risk for catastrophic wildfire emergency.

Using a Google Earth-style, Web-based mapping system, the project could help potential home buyers see if a home is in an area vulnerable to wildfire. Barry said the system could be online by the end of March.

“(This addition to the study) will help developers and new residents make more informed decisions,” Barry said.

Barry said the grant also will help study areas where sharp curves and steep slopes make access difficult for fire engines.

“We’ll look at the county road network,” Barry said. “The fire trucks just can’t make that turn.”

Though the Olympic Peninsula has a reputation for excessive rainfall, a study by Headwaters Economics, a social science research group based in Montana, found Clallam County has the highest existing risk of catastrophic losses in the event of major wildfire in Washington state and is fifth-highest among 413 counties in the nation’s 11 western states.

John King, a senior engineering specialist with FM Global, said his company has several clients in the area, including Battelle’s Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequim and Nippon Paper in Port Angeles, as well as a number of clients on the West Coast.

“We’re not too worried about the public — we’re worried about industry,” said King, who noted FM Global distributes about 300 grants each year. “We try to put enough money out to make it useful.”

King said his company sees a benefit to such a study because

it helps businesses reduce chances of catastrophic loss from something that’s never easy to predict, such as wildfire.

King’s grant presentation came just weeks after wildfire destroyed hundreds of homes in Southern California burned, forced more than 640,000 persons to evacuate and caused an estimated $1 billion in damage, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Protection from wildfire
When building a new home — or trying to make a home more wildfire-safe — experts suggest a number of tips:
■ Chose fire-resistant materials for new roofs, such as tile, metal or asphalt coverings. .
■ Decks are second only to roofs in assisting wildfires. Use materials less flammable than wood, such as composites, or have the wood treated to resist flames.
■ Avoid building on steep slopes or at the top of ravines since fire spreads much faster on slopes.
■ Use cement, plaster, stucco or concrete masonry for exterior walls; vinyl siding melts at fairly low temperatures.
■ Chose double-paned or tempered glass for windows. Avoid plastic skylights.
■ Screen all other openings to the outside with mesh.
■ Keep stacks of wood away from the house.
■ Store all flammables inside.
■ Clean gutters of needles and other fire fuels, particularly during the summer months.

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