By DARRELL R. SANTSCHI
While fire-resistant roofing materials and brush clearance around buildings may be the best defense against brush fires, a Riverside County fire official said Sunday there is no effective way for homeowners to avoid the kind of wind-driven fires that swept through Corona and Orange County this weekend.
Even newer homes with tile roofs caught fire when embers ignited the wood eaves and spread through attics.
"Tile roofs are much better than shake shingles but there's nothing we can do when it's a wind-driven fire like this," said Kathleen Henderson, Office of Emergency Services coordinator for the Riverside County Fire Department.
Homes are often at the mercy of weather-driven fires like the Triangle Complex blaze, which was whipped by 70 mph winds, Henderson said by phone. Those gusts can propel embers far ahead of the fire, and flames advance so fast that they can overwhelm a home in a flash.
She emphasized that fire officials still recommend replacing older, wood or shake roofs with tile or flame-resistant composite materials.
But even tile roofs have wooden eaves, she said.
"Usually, what happens is, when it's really windy the embers blow up under the eaves," Henderson said. "That is wood. That's where the fire starts."
In Brea, newer stucco homes in the luxury Olinda Ranch development survived the fire.
Olinda Ranch residents attributed their safety to "shelter-in-place" technology with concrete tiles on the roof, sprinklers inside the houses and boxed-in eves.
At the Oakridge Mobile Home Park in the San Fernando Valley, 500 homes were destroyed. Flammable cypress and eucalyptus trees there lit up like torches.
When wildfires ravaged San Diego County last year, the Associated Press reported, the community of Rancho Santa Fe was largely unscathed even though it was in the midst of the worst flames. The suburb lost 53 houses, but none in the five subdivisions that embraced shelter-in-place restrictions.
Those measures may work, said Gary Boughan of Champion Roofing in Riverside, "but you're taking away from the looks of the house.
"I don't know what you can do about the eaves unless you sealed them up and put on some type of fireproofing shield," Boughan said.
He said homeowners can buy lightweight composite roofing materials that can withstand fire, but there is little they can do to prevent damage from fires like those experienced in Orange and Los Angeles counties this weekend.
"If it's going to burn, it's going to burn," he said. "I hate to say it, but there is not much you can do."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Published: Monday, November 17, 2008