Lessons Learned from Lake Tahoe: Keeping Your House Safe

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Wildfires are perhaps among the most catastrophic events that can impact an area. Homes are lost, forests decimated, not to mention, there’s the devastating human toll that could potentially accompany this type of disaster. The Caldor Fire ravaged a region of California otherwise known for its resort feel. Following the events which began on August 14th, that “resort feel” has definitely changed. And yet, if not for the heroic efforts of numerous firefighters and their strategic approach to containment, things could have been a lot worse for the people of the South Lake Tahoe region…much worse.

It was due to the quick actions and methodical work of the fire departments that have since responded, that the situation is increasingly being controlled. The Classic Home Improvements sponsored TV series: California Contractor which debuted on Fox 5 San Diego in August will be featuring one of the firefighters who took part in the harrowing efforts to contain this cataclysmic fire.  The photos obtained in this article are all courtesy of San Miguel Fire and Rescue.


The 15th Largest Fire in the State

As of September 18th, the Caldor fire has grown to over 219k acres and destroyed nearly 800 homes and 18 commercial properties in the area. Full containment isn’t expected until the end of September. The 15th largest fire in California’s history and the 16th most destructive, this fire was not only one for the record books, but certainly has compelled people to stop and think about safety—personal safety of course, as well the safety of their homes.

While evacuations are mandatory and it is difficult to leave behind the homes we love, the homes we raise our families in and the homes in which we create memories, there are steps you can take to help try and safeguard your home.

Newer materials and innovations as far as building techniques can make a structure more resistant to natural disasters. Though in some cases it may be impossible to save a property—depending on the intensity of the event—it is always a good idea to integrate safer and stronger materials where applicable, as well as being more mindful of the landscaping/topography around the property.

Living in the mountains particularly comes with its own set of challenges. In the case of the Caldor Fire, there are still structures in danger despite the flame’s abatement. For those who do live in a mountainous region, there are enhanced materials and processes that could potentially help protect properties in the event of a natural disaster.

Protecting your Home

First off, fire truck access is absolutely critical regardless of where you live. What some property owners have discovered is that what they thought was efficient access was actually far from it. Each locale has specific requirements when it comes to fire access. Checking with your local building and zoning department as well as with the fire department itself, is an important first step. Beyond doing what is required however, you absolutely want to ensure that there is sufficient space and access for a firetruck to reach your structure. For those building a new home in the mountains for example, this may require additional clearing and grading above and beyond what the plans call for. And yes, though there may be some additional expense, think about the alternative—fire threatens your property; firetrucks are unable to navigate the terrain and find a passable route in. This is not an ideal situation and one that could result in disastrous consequences.

Beyond making sure you have adequate access for fire trucks and other emergency vehicles, you also want to seriously consider vegetation control. Wildfires spread, in part, because of the presence of excess fuel. What constitutes “fuel”: things such as brush and trees. If your home is surrounded by an excess of dry grass and brush for instance, this, as the saying goes, is only going to add fuel to the fire. Certainly, lush vegetation makes for a scenic landscape; however, you need to find that balance between scenic and too much. Keeping the vegetation back away from the house itself can help the situation.

Additionally, you can look to the home itself. As mentioned, building materials have come a long way; innovation in the realm of home construction has made it possible for your home to have enhanced protection against fire and other natural disasters. Concrete siding for one is a resistant alternative to wood or vinyl siding. Protecting the building envelope with fire resistant materials could potentially make a big difference. Same goes for doors; you might consider replacing older wood doors with metal units.

With disasters such as the Caldor Fire, there is no guarantee that your house can be kept safe. But it is events such as this that should get people thinking about how to best protect their homes and not leave them vulnerable.


Photos courtesy of San Miguel Fire and REscue

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