Wildfire Protection Tests Focus on the Details of Construction

Researchers seek to reduce the damage caused by windblown embers

With the U.S. bracing for another wildfire season, researchers at the Institute for Building and Home Safety are testing new ideas about fire-resistant construction and conducting controlled burns to demonstrate countermeasure effectiveness.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, a global non-profit devoted to eliminating death, injury and loss from fire, two wildfires in California late last year were the largest ever recorded in the state. The fires killed 45 people, destroyed more than 10,000 structures and burned almost 553,000 acres.

The focus of IBHS outreach in 2019 is calling out details of landscaping, construction materials, and the assembly of decks, roofs, siding, soffits, and vents as ignition-point risks when seeded by wind-blown embers. It also is looking at the fire resistance of manufactured lumber, versus natural materials.

“We visited Paradise [Calif.] after the Camp Fire and saw the destruction, but we also saw where wildfire resistant construction and defensible space can lead to more resilient structures,” says Daniel Gorham, a research engineer at IBHS. “We recreate wildfire exposure — flames, embers, and radiant heat — and we study how it impacts the building as a system, and we look at specific building components, like the roof or the deck.”

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