In the early 1990s, several destructive Urban-Wildland Interface fires ravaged Southern California. From 1990 to 1993 alone, three major conflagrations destroyed billions of dollars of property. Hilly terrain, hot dry winds, combustible vegetation, and closely spaced dwellings create favorable conditions for these types of fires. As populations continue to expand into wildland areas, this trend can be expected to continue.
Data collected in studies following these fires shows a correlation between fire damage and the exterior surfaces of buildings. Concrete or clay tile roofs performed much better than wood shake or shingle roofs. Buildings having non-combustible exterior wall surfaces, such as masonry or stucco, achieved a higher level of survival. Double-pane windows are needed to minimize heat transfer to the building interior.
Minimal roof projections or the use of non-combustible materials to protect combustible eaves and projections plus the elimination of soffit vents will also increase a structure's chances of surviving a wildland fire.
The lessons learned from the California urban-wildland interface fires go beyond regional application. The use of non-combustible materials, such as masonry or stucco, should be a key component of fire-safety in rural, urban, single-family, multifamily, and commercial construction.