Pilot program will provide up to $40,000 to make a home more resistant to wildfire

The state of California is beginning the initiative in rural San Diego County

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Home steps on fire
Relatively fire-resistant homes can ignite during low-intensity wildfires if a path of combustible material, such as fences, stairs, decks, or support beams lead the fire to the home. Image from Texas Forest Service report about fires in 2011.

Recognizing that the Home Ignition Zone can be the most important factor that determines how vulnerable a residence is to an approaching wildfire, the State of California has embarked on a pilot program that will grant up to $40,000 to homeowners who retrofit their homes to make them more fire resistant.

Working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) the funds in the $100-million project will be available in areas that are commonly threatened by fires.

From the LA Times:

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CAL FIRE, chose the communities of Dulzura, Potrero and Campo based largely on their concentration of low-income residents living in older, fire-prone homes. The state is also starting to roll out the pilot in Shasta County [in Northern California]. Residents with higher incomes can still qualify for the retrofits as long as they pay for a percentage of the work on a sliding scale.

Applications for the grants can be submitted at wildfiremititgation.caloes.ca.gov.

There may be additional federal funds becoming available in the future. During a January 21 speech at Del Rosa Fire Station on the San Bernardino National Forest Vice President Kamala Harris spoke about wildland fires and the resilience of communities threatened by fire.

“We are talking with home owners and reaching out to communities,” she said, “to figure out how we can support them to create a community that is less likely to be so significantly damaged if a fire should hit.”

However, she may have been referring to the $100-million from FEMA and California.

Our take

We will never be able to prevent all fires that threaten homes and private property. We have to learn to Live With Fire. The Home Ignition Zone should be an extremely high priority in preventing structures from burning in wildfires.

Grants for homeowners to retrofit homes to make them more fire resistant is the right thing to do. These could be expanded to include modifying the vegetation within 100 feet of the structures. Below is an excerpt from an article posted September 24, 2020 on Wildfire Today:

“Ignition resistant homes, and collectively communities, can be readily created by eliminating and reducing ignition vulnerabilities within the Home Ignition Zone,” said Jack Cohen, a retired U.S. Forest Service Research fire scientist. “This enables the prevention of wildland-urban fire disasters without necessarily controlling extreme wildfires. Ironically, ignition resistant homes and communities can facilitate appropriate ecological fire management using prescribed burning. The potential destruction of homes from escaped prescribed burns is arguably a principal obstacle for restoring fire as an appropriate ecological factor. Therefore, it is unlikely that ecologically significant prescribed burning at landscape scales will occur without ignition resistant homes and communities.”

Here are some suggestions that could be considered for funding along with an enhanced prescribed fire program.

  • Provide grants to homeowners that are in areas with high risk from wildland fires. Pay a portion of the costs of improvements or retrofits to structures and the nearby vegetation to make the property more fire resistant. This could include the cost of removing some of the trees in order to have the crowns at least 18 feet apart if they are within 30 feet of the structures — many homeowners can’t afford the cost of complete tree removal.
  • Cities and counties could establish systems and procedures for property owners to easily dispose of the vegetation and debris they remove.
  • Hire crews that can physically help property owners reduce the fuels near their homes when it would be difficult for them to do it themselves.
  • Provide grants to cities and counties to improve evacuation capability and planning, to create community safety zones for sheltering as a fire approaches, and to build or improve resilient emergency water supplies to be used by firefighters.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Gerald.

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please keep in mind our commenting ground rules before you post a comment.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

13 thoughts on “Pilot program will provide up to $40,000 to make a home more resistant to wildfire”

  1. As we saw in the recent Colorado wildfires, 100′ is a huge space. Most homes (such as mine in the foothills of Santa Fe, NM) have a 15′ easement before the next property. So there’s only 30′ between houses. I wish someone would invent– using fire blanket material perhaps– tree covers, not unlike Christmas tree trash bags, to put over ornamental and medium sized trees used for landscaping nearest the home.

    1. Kiki, your situation is not unusual across the west. That is why it’s important to work together with your neighbors as a team. When homes are that close together, if a home ignites, it will likely spread fire to the next home and vice versa. Even with homes spread further apart, burning vegetation on your property can impact your neighbor’s home with radiant heat and ember showers. Working together to create fire adapted neighborhoods and communities is our greatest opportunity to reduce the risk of collectively losing homes to wildfire. We’re all in this together.

  2. 22 years ago I designed and installed an under eave sprayer system (with back up power for my well pump) around all of my buildings. This is in addition to removing as many combustables as I can (several of my buildings are 5′ from the property line) 1/16″ attic screens, metal roofs & window shutters should hopefully bolster my home against wildfire.

    We mandate interior fire sprayers now so why not exterior ones? Wet wood does not burn.

    1. I guess you missed my comment above: “(with back up power for my well pump)”.

      To more fully detail this I have 4.5 kW of grid tied PV with 15 kWh of battery storage to operate well the pump in the case of a (likely) utility outage… and if all else fails, I have a gasoline generator too.

      My 3/4 HP well pump provides around 12 gpm, which easily operates the ~45 sprayers surrounding my buildings.

      But once again, I am totally surprised that active, external, under eave wild fire sprayers are not mandated.

      1. Perhaps you could share some pictures with a description to folks somehow? Yes, I’ve seen such systems on the net in the Outback of Australia. I have been advocating to friends and anyone who may consider. My aunt and niece escaped the Tubbs fire (Santa Rose) with the clothes they had on back in 2017. They are attempting to rebuild but old age and red tape and lack of money is stopping them. I would hope these Firewise measures would mandated by all State and national building code in all fire prone landscapes. But alas the US is so corrupted by big money and greed it will likely only happen if homeowners do it on their own.

        1. It is just PVC pipe secured under the eaves with small consumption irrigation sprayers every ~15′.

  3. This is interesting. It sounds like a good program to help homeowners. However, if FEMA is helping to fund it at a time that the federal government is trying to get out of funding their much needed flood insurance program, it seems like a big disconnect for me and all the other homeowners in hurricane prone states who find our federal flood insurance becoming a bigger and bigger amount each year. If you live in a place that FEMA deems a Flood Zone, you must have the federal flood insurance in order to keep your mortgage. I would love to have $40k to install impact windows and make other hardening improvements to my house, but it sure has not been offered. I will add, any minor hurricane damage (from wind only) I have had here in SW FL in the 20 years I have lived a mile from the Gulf has been paid for by me, not FEMA or any federal program. My house meets the Miami-Dade codes, has proper roof inspection reports, etc., but yet the federal flood insurance about doubles yearly, and the regular homeowner’s insurance goes up just because they had a storm way up in Jacksonville or somewhere else far away. So far, my beautifully handcrafted plywood shutters have held up. … even tho I got a C in woodshop many years ago.

  4. It about time to implement such a “Firewise” type program in all western states but Western U.S. Senators and Biden administration are proposing to spend tens of billions of tax payer funds on more logging on public lands stating this will protect communities with the help of the Nature Con-servancy (corporate front group posing as an environmental NGO) . Such logging or fire fuels logging will likely do more harm than good by making people believe they are protected after said logging and not implement firewise home hardening mitigation measures. In essence such public lands logging will only cost lives and billions of dollars wasted instead of hardening homes and communities. Check out the billboard on I-5 before the Oregon Fires if 2020 advocating billions for Firewise measures at Eco-Advocates.org and go to John Muir Project johnmuirproject.org

  5. https://allieddisasterdefense.com/ in Los Angeles County has a full service wildfire package. They came out and installed fire resistant vents, sprayed fire retardant on my hillside and around my house, in addition to giving me a free inspection for other items. Water shut off valves and gas shut off valves are also great gadgets to protect your home from a water loss or earthquake. City, county and HOA are NOT taking any action to protect our properties. We have to take matters into our own hands to protect our homes and stop insurance companies from canceling our policies

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