Concrete logs for fire resistant house construction

A company in Missoula, Montana has developed “cultured logs”, a fire resistant building material which looks very much like wood logs. Dick Morgenstern, Chairman of Cultured Log Systems, had experience in precasting concrete for bridges and sewer manholes.

After seeing houses threatened by wildland fires being wrapped in fire shelter material, he started experimenting in Missoula by making a rubber impression from real logs, then transferring that impression to concrete. The concrete is tinted and judging from the photos, looks very real, at least from a distance.

The logs have a polystyrene core encased by concrete and reinforced with metal rods. Wall sections weigh about 100 pounds per linear foot. The company, after accepting the plans for a house, will produce the logs, transport them to the building site, and erect the structure, all in 60-90 days.

The cost is about 10-20% higher than conventional wood frame construction and costs about the same as handcrafted logs, but the cultured logs are virtually maintenance free. The company claims this type of construction is much more air tight and provides more insulation than conventional wood frame or log construction.

Put a metal roof on one of these puppies and keep the vegetation around the house cleaned up, and your neighborhood firefighters will love you!

UPDATE January 21, 2009
The company has changed their name to EverLog Systems. Their web site is

California: Summit fire update

The Summit fire, south of San Jose, California, has now burned 3,400 acres according to a CalFire spokesman. Early today it jumped over the Santa Cruz County line into Uvas Canyon County Park in Santa Clara County. The community of Sveadal near the park entrance was evacuated. The spokesman said they expect the fire to grow to 4,000 before it is contained next week. The fire has burned 28 structures and is 25% contained.

Investigators traced the direction of spread indicators back to the point of origin which turned out to be a location where someone had been clearing vegetation.

Click on the below map of the Summit fire to see a larger version. This map shows heat detected by satellites. The fire perimeter, as uploaded from the incident management team, is hard to see, but it is in yellow cross-hatching–it may not be very current.

Below is a map from Google uploaded by CalFire that has a little more detail. The perimeter was produced from infrared imagery at 1700 hours on May 23. This is a new application, to me anyway, and it is a little buggy. It takes a while to load and refresh. But I applaud CalFire for providing this service.

California: Summit fire, south of San Jose

The Summit fire started early Thursday morning about 12 miles south of San Jose, California and over the course of the day grew to 3,000 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains. By 5 PM local time on Thursday at least 10 structures had burned and 350 residents had been forced to evacuate with another 1,400 asked to leave their homes voluntarily. Heavy brush and timber along with winds gusting up to 50 mph were complicating firefighting efforts.

There was a report that it has the potential to grow to 10,000 acres. The cause is under investigation but a local resident said that she had seen someone burning debris piles recently near where the fire started and last week the piles were still smoldering.

The map below of the Summit fire shows heat in red as detected by satellites on Thursday.
Google has some interesting maps and photos of the fire.

Photo courtesy of Mercury News.

Arizona: Frye Mesa fire

This fire started out as a 100-acre prescribed fire in the Pinaleno mountains south of Safford, Arizona on the Coronado National Forest, but on Tuesday it escaped control. Strong winds and red flag conditions on Wednesday caused it to blow out on all sides and by Thursday it was 2,500 acres. Small’s Eastern Arizona Incident Management Team assumed command at 1800 on Wednesday. As of Thursday afternoon rain was falling on the fire and no homes were threatened.

Photo, Wednesday evening, May 21, by David Peters, BLM

Report released on fatal Charleston furniture store fire

We routinely write about wildland fires here, but there are some lessons to be learned that would apply to wildland fire in the long awaited report on last June’s fire in Charleston, SC that claimed the lives of nine firefighters at the Sofa Super Store. It contains some startling information:

  • Fighting a well-established fire in a large furniture store with booster lines.
  • The fire department routinely did not use any large diameter hose. The largest hose on the pumpers was 2 1/2″.
  • There was inadequate water supply at the fire.
  • A lack of command and control at the fire scene.
  • A lack of accountability of firefighters at the fire scene.
  • The trapped firefighters’ mayday radio calls were not heard by anyone at the fire.
  • Improper ventilation at the fire may have contributed to the fatalities.
  • Truck companies in the fire department had ceased being used for ventilation on fires, perform rescues, or conduct salvage or overhaul. They had become “taxis”, transporting extra firefighters to fires.
  • “The Charleston Fire Department was inadequately staffed, inadequately trained, insufficiently equipped, and organizationally unprepared to conduct an operation of this complexity.”
  • “The fire chief became directly involved in supervising tactical operations in the vicinity of the loading dock and the warehouse during the critical phase of the incident. This should not be the role of the Incident Commander.”
  • The policy of the fire department was to not refill SCBA air tanks unless they were less than 2/3 full. This had the effect of the low pressure alarms going off after only 6-7 minutes of use.

On Wednesday, Fire Chief Rusty Thomas announced that he is retiring, effective June 27.

More information, including a photo, is at Firegeezer. has a lengthy story about the report.