California tightens building codes in fire-prone areas
July 3, 2008
• Expected to lessen losses due to wildfires
• ‘These codes are in place to save lives’
During a week when more than 1,400 wildfires were scorching parts of the state, new standards clicked into place mandating tougher building codes for all structures built in fire-prone areas.
The new codes require construction techniques that reduce the risk of structures catching fire from burning embers and intruding flames. Current law calls for all property owners to create 100 feet of defensible space with minimal flammable material around structures in high risk fire zones.
"These codes are in place to save lives," says Dave Walls, executive director of the California Building Standards Commission. "We've seen over these past years what fires can do to homes. Small changes in construction can mean more of the few precious minutes a family has to exit their home in an emergency or save the structure all together."
As of July 1, all new construction located in a CalFire designated area must be in compliance with the new building codes to provide properties an enhanced level of protection against wildfires.
As the state’s fire protection arm, CalFire determines moderate, high and very high risk “Fire Hazard Severity Zones” based on the probability of the area burning and potential fire behavior in the area.
As part of the newly adopted fire codes, all siding, exterior doors, decking, windows, eaves, roof and attic vents, and enclosed overhanging decks must meet the most recent fire-resistant test standards.
For example, exterior walls must be made of noncombustible or ignition-resistant material, heavy timber, or log wall construction. If the design does not include the exterior walls to be constructed with approved materials, the building can also satisfy the code by ensuring that its exterior walls satisfy new fire-resistant test standards developed at the University of California, Berkeley.