Wildland fires and Californian fire safety requirements

On Thursday 2nd May 2013, a wildland fire erupted in Camarillo, northwest of Los Angeles, California. It was probably started by a discarded cigarette butt. Due to strong winds and ongoing drought, around 4,000 homes and a military base on the California coast were threatened by the fire. Around 2,200 fire personnel were involved in fire fighting. Usually, such fires only occur in late summer, at the height of the “fire season”, and not already in May.

A wildland fire is an uncontrolled fire that often occurs in wildland areas, but which can also consume houses or agricultural resources. Common causes include lightning, human carelessness, arson, volcano eruption, and pyroclastic precipitation from active volcanos. In the United States, there are typically between 60,000 and 80,000 wildfires each year, burning 12 to 40 thousand km2 of land, this is around 0.13 to 0.41 % of the country.

Following the catastrophic San Diego County wildland fire in October 2003, one of the largest fires in California history, which destroyed 2,232 homes and killed 15, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection commissioned a study published in July 2004 on how to better protect homes and buildings against the impact of such fires. It resulted in the Wildland-Urban Interface Building Standards, which became effective January 1, 2008, as part of the 2007 California Building Code Chapter 7A. The regulation applies to all new buildings in any fire hazard severity zone. It contains fire safety requirements standards and tests basically concerning roofing, attic ventilation, exterior walls, decking floors and underfloors.

Non-combustible or ignition resistant materials such as fire-retardant treated wood have to meet stringent fire safety requirements and to be tested to the ASTM E84 standard for surface burning characteristics of building materials.

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