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Letter to the Editor-Wildland Fire Standards are Changing

Submitted by Mark Mills

Afternoon Folks, 

Wildland Fire Standards are changing. 

The California WUI Standards (Wildland Urban Intermix) are developing new and updated Recommendations (which many Insurance Underwriters are already adopting) and California’s Legislature has mandated that the State Fire Marshall and Cal Fire develop new and/or update  Defensible Space Requirements. Ignition and Ember Resistance, Home and Property Hardening, and fire-resistant vegetation and landscaping are becoming an ever-increasing part of the new conversations. 

These updates and new additions will supersede the existing California WUI Recommendations and will be applicable to all existing and/or new build Resident and Business structures retroactively and going forward. Although these WUI Standards are only Recommendations and not Code Requirements, by themselves WUI Standards are not enforceable. However, many Municipalities and Insurance Underwriters have adopted them within their local Codes and by Insurers for insurability and as a result are enforceable by those entities. Defensible Space Requirements are covered by Public Resource Codes as stated in California PRC 4291 and therefore are lawfully enforceable Requirements throughout the State.  

I cannot argue that these changes and updates are absolutely necessary “a No-Brainer” that we all need to incorporate to make ourselves and our neighbors safer. I also cannot argue it is very likely that our California Legislators and Officials are going to take years to provide us with any substantive help with the costs. 

Having said that, there is some help available with more being developed.  

I was recently in a meeting with Supervisor Nathan Magsig at his Office, He has a very strong commitment to Forestry Management, Fuels Reductions Projects, Resource Management, and Fire Safe Council and Firewise Community efforts. In addition to other efforts, he has also recently created and funded the new Fire Prevention & Recovery Coordination Group.

Other Groups in the area, working with Local, Regional, and State partnership are Sierra Resource Conversation District (SRCD), Oak to Timberline Fire Safe Council (OTFSC), Hwy 168 Fire Safe Council, Miramonte-Pinehurst Firewise Community, Courtright Village Firewise Community, and the recently approved Sundew Area Firewise Community in upper Yokuts/Squaw Valley. Numerous other Firewise Communities are in various stages of their application processes in Squaw/Yokuts Valley, Wonder Valley, and throughout the SR 180 & 168 corridors.   

I would ask, as these resources reach out to us please listen to and be receptive to their information and requests for input from us, they ARE trying to help. They need our help and input to begin and in some cases continue and prioritize the projects and folks in need. 

Towards that effort to be helpful, I have attached links to some resources. From the Office of the State Fire Marshall, The State Fire Marshal’s Building Materials Listing Program (BML), STATE FIRE MARSHAL LISTED WILDLAND URBAN INTERFACE (WUI) PRODUCTS HANDBOOK Published by CAL-FIRE. You can find this Publication at:  https://osfm.fire.ca.gov/what-we-do/fire-engineering-and-investigations/building-materials-listing  My hope is to prevent folks from spending money on products that do not meet the requirements of the newest standards. It’s a tough read, but I don’t want to waste money I don’t have and I’m pretty sure you all don’t have money to waste either. 

Other resources; Although It is not in the Fire Marshall’s list of products, I believe because it is not yet directly available in California and it is a Tornado/Hurricane related product, (maybe an investment, dealership, or distributer opportunity here) for Manufactured Homeowners regarding skirting there is a product called StrongSkirt out of Oklahoma ( https://www.strongskirtusa.com/ ).  It’s a 29 gauge steel product (just like metal roofing) with incorporated venting and painted finish is rated for 40 years. I’m trying to figure out a way to afford it myself. 

Please also be aware there are some lower to medium cost alternative possibilities that are available, “Fire-Resistant” Paints and Coatings, Google Fire Resistant paint and or coatings. In the medium to moderate cost range PHOS-CHEK Gel ( yes that pink stuff that drops from the Tankers, minus the dyes and reforestation ground stabilization grass seeds) is available to the general public.

Perimeter Solutions, makers of PHOS-CHEK® long-term fire retardant and other high-quality firefighting products, announced that its ground-based long-term fire-retardant PHOS-CHEK FORTIFY® has been added to the USDA Forest Service (USFS) and Cal Fire Qualified Products Lists (QPL), making it the first and only highly-durable fire retardant that has been approved by USDA Forest Service for preventative application on U.S. federal lands. 

Just a little to add, PHOS-CHEK FORTIFY is the same product used by Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service with two exceptions: 1) It does not have any of the pink dyes that Cal Fire uses to identify, from the air, where it has been applied. 2) It does not contain any of the grass seed used for ground stabilization to help prevent erosion when the winter rains come through after the fire event.
I should mention, for private use, it should not be considered as a first-use product.

It is expensive, it has a 90-day or two inches of rain effective life. Its best private use would be along road frontages to help prevent “dragging chain”, “hot brake”, and “careless cigarette” issues, etc. Great uses would be during an approaching moderate to major fire event to help reduce wind driven ember ignition and decrease fire spotting ahead of the fire, would be to apply it to plantings/shrubbery in your 0-to-30-foot defensible zone, and on the wind exposed sides of structures, roof eaves and overhangs, fencing, decking, and pergolas.

It is a fantastic product – IF – people take the time to educate themselves on the effective use of it. It should only be considered as just one of many tools available. 

 For more information on California  WUI Standards, OSFM Wildland Hazards and Building Codes: https://osfm.fire.ca.gov/what-we-do/code-development-and-analysis/wildland-hazards-and-building-codes  

 For information regarding Firewise Communities here is a link to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Firewise USA website: https://www.nfpa.org/education-and-research/wildfire/firewise-usa/become-a-firewise-usa-site  

Sierra RCD: https://sierrarcd.com/  

Oak to Timberline FSC: https://www.oaktotimberline.org/  

Highway 168 FSC: https://www.highway168firesafecouncil.org/  

Sundew Area Firewise Community: sundew.firewise2023@gmail.com 

 For more information on PHOS-CHEK FORTIFY from Perimeter Solutions:  

https://www.perimeter-solutions.com/en/  

and 

https://www.perimeter-solutions.com/en/2021/10/05/perimeter-solutions-phos-chek-fortify-now-qualified-by-usda-forest-service-for-application-as-a-proactive-wildfire-solution/  

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